Skills shortage: A thing of the past?

commentary It's official. Judging by research revealed recently, one might come to the conclusion that the skills shortage debate can finally be put to rest.

commentary It's official.

Judging by research revealed recently, one might come to the conclusion that the skills shortage debate can finally be put to rest.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) says that on a national level, the information technology and communications sector is not suffering from a skills shortage. But the scene on the ground -- at state and territory level -- tells a different story.

It's important to first understand what constitutes a lack of supply and how the agency reached its conclusion.

According to DEWR, skill shortages exist when employers find it difficult or are unable to fill vacancies for an occupation or specialisation "at current levels of remuneration and conditions of employment, and reasonably accessible locations".

If there are shortfalls in the three largest states, or in a majority of states, then DEWR will rate the occupation as being in national shortage.

The new statistics, from the annual ICT Skill Shortage Survey, is based on interviews conducted in May 2004 with 122 employers and 78 recruitment agencies nationwide.

The survey, while not exhaustive, does provide valuable insights into the actual state of affairs, and highlights opportunities for local software developers, IT managers and business analysts.

New South Wales is suffering the most in terms of a dearth of specialisations such as .NET technologies, Lotus Notes, Progress Software, SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel, Linux and CISSP (certified information systems security professional). The other states have expressed recruitment difficulties but no actual insufficiency in skills.

Does this mean workers with these skills will be given ample opportunities for employment?

It depends on the employer. Some companies will go to great lengths to hire and retain good talent. Others might brush it aside and say, "It's not my problem. I've outsourced my IT operations to so and so. It's their problem now."

So, if there's no skills shortage, will we see a decrease in offshoring IT work? Not necessarily, says Andrew Bray at DEWR. "There are many drivers for that and skill shortage is not the only one," he said.

I agree with Bray's assessment. Companies choose to outsource for a variety of reasons, with cost being the primary driver.

When I spoke to a programmer friend, he cited two main employment issues: developers who have been in the business for many years are finding it tough to convert their skill sets. And some cases have pointed to cost as an impediment to hiring local professionals when more "affordable" options are available.

At the end of the day, who does this data impact or influence? Since the Department has admitted there is a lack of .NET specialists, for instance, is this a call for techies to catch up? Or is it a sign of perpetual slim pickings for locals?

Have you or anyone you know experienced difficulties in finding a job? Do you agree with DEWR that Australia has no ICT skills shortage? Send your feedback to edit@zdnet.com.au.