​Westpac CIO calls for urgent changes to fix Australia's IT talent drought

Westpac CIO Dave Curran has said Australia's IT talent pool is lacking compared to other countries, particularly when looking at the number of women in the industry.

Westpac chief information officer Dave Curran has painted a bleak picture of how the future of IT would look like in Australia if nothing is done to change the current state of the country's IT education system.

Speaking at the University of Technology, Sydney about 'The digital revolution and the future of IT in Australia' on Wednesday, Curran highlighted that more action needs to be taken to increase the IT talent pipeline, particularly for women.

"Looking at the current IT workforce in Australia we struggle in particular to attract and retain women," he said.

"There is nothing that supports that one sex is better than the other when it comes to IT, however only about a quarter of the Australian IT workforce are women."

He went on to say that currently one third of his technology team is made up of women, but other organisations need to follow suit.

"I'm really proud of these numbers but I know we can do better. Many of you would know that at Westpac we've set ourselves a target of 50 per cent women in leadership roles by our 200th birthday in 2017. It's one of the reasons I came to work at Westpac and I really want to ensure we achieve it," he said.

He also pointed out a "broken supply/demand equation" where the number of young people studying IT courses at university has fallen by over 50 percent in the last decade, but there has been a 31 percent growth in industry employment.

This is in comparison to countries such as China where this year alone will have produced 3.5 million of its own graduates in science, technology, engineering, and maths, Curran said.

"That's what we're competing with," he said.

According to Curran, there are three main contributing factors for why there are so few people looking into IT as a career option. The first reason is because young Australians, particularly, young women, aren't encouraged to study technology at school or university, suggesting school curriculums need to change to engage children from a young age.

The second point Curran made was that parents need to be educated around how important technology skills are, and use that knowledge to encourage the technology interest in their children.

The final contributing factor Curran said is that more needs to be done by government and businesses to retain talent in Australia -- a similar point recently raised by StartupAUS CEO Peter Bradd, and a group of venture capitalists and startups at a recent KPMG-hosted roundtable.

"I just recently returned from a trip to Silicon Valley where I met dozens of young Australian entrepreneurs who are making it in the United States after failing to get support in Australia," he said.

"Or even worse, they didn't even try to establish their businesses here but jumped immediately on a plane with their amazing ideas. While I think we've made inroads into supporting startups in Australia and keeping some incredible innovations in our backyard, both business and government have more work to do in supporting this growing sector of our economy."

In efforts to contribute to contribute to the startup ecosystem, Westpac previously announced a AU$50 million investment into Reinventure, an organisation that identifies and supports startups. More recently, Westpac bought a stake in Canberra-based security startup Quintessencelabs.