There is no IT skills shortage in Australia: CommBank CIO

Not only is the IT skills shortage in Australia a myth, but the idea that organisations have to outsource IT jobs overseas is also a fallacy, according to CommBank CIO Michael Harte.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

Commonwealth Bank CIO Michael Harte does not believe that there is an IT skills shortage crisis in Australia, and has shot down Westpac CIO Clive Whincup's assertion that organisations are being forced to offshore IT jobs.

Commonwealth Bank CIO Michael Harte (Credit: ZDNet)

Earlier this month, Whincup took to the stage at the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Young IT conference in Sydney, and claimed that companies like Westpac are not shipping IT jobs overseas for cost cutting, but instead are made to do so because there are not enough skilled IT workers in Australia.

He also said that offshoring is perpetuating the IT skills shortage, because young people are discouraged when they see jobs going overseas.

Speaking with ZDNet last week, Harte said that Whincup's statements were "nonsense," and that he doesn't understand the Westpac CIO's position at all.

"There isn't a shortage of skills — there's certainly specific areas of specialisation where there's more competition, such as certain types of security, around mobile, and capabilities around big data," he said. "They're all in hot demand, and therefore these skills have been 'bid up' ... but that's always been the case, and we don't need to go overseas to look for these people."

Existing IT professionals can be trained in these specialisations rapidly to ameliorate this kind of skills issue, he said.

The ACS regularly warns of an IT skills shortage crisis in Australia, but ZDNet's CIO jury believes that the skills shortage issue has been overblown.

Harte said that Whincup is merely trying to justify Westpac's own offshoring activities.

At yesterday's Commonwealth Bank annual general meeting, the bank's CEO Ian Narev renewed its commitment to keep jobs in Australia.

"We've said we will not offshore our processes and remain committed to it," he said at the meeting.

Young people aren't discouraged from entering the IT workforce due to offshoring, according to Harte.

"They don't know anything about it," he said. "I don't think there's a skills shortage caused by people not going to [study IT] because they think 'I'm not going in there because my job will get outsourced' — that just doesn't make sense."

What is more important, in Harte's view, is making a career in IT sound more exciting and fun to young people. Telling high school students that they can be a systems administrator or a database manager wouldn't exactly fill them with excitement, he said.

"How about working for Facebook, Google, or Amazon? They're cool places to work," Harte said. "If you're thinking about major life choices and vocation at that age, you have to get some guidance from the market.

"I think if you sold an IT job, that's not much fun, but if you sold a dream around being part of an exciting industry, such as in healthcare, social media, and entertainment arts, they can have an exciting career with IT being a big component of that."

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