Skills development vital for Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector to reap the benefits of the digital revolution

9 July 2013

Australia's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is poised for a period of rapid expansion, but a determined effort is needed to develop the domestic skills base so that jobs, investment and the wider economic benefits are maximised.
 
A new report, ‘ICT workforce study 2013’,released today by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA), projects significant growth in demand for ICT skills in coming years.
 
The total ICT workforce is projected to grow by approximately 33,200 workers, or 7.1 per cent, in the period to 2016-17. But this expansion is threatened by a projected shortage of skilled people able to meet the ICT industry’s workforce needs.
 
"The reality is that the domestic supply of ICT skills has not kept pace with demand, and this will need to change if we are to move confidently into the digital century," said AWPA CEO, Robin Shreeve.
 
"The challenge for industry, education providers and governments is to help foster an environment where careers in ICT are more attractive and where investment in ICT skills will be enhanced,” he said.
 
The ICT workforce study 2013 is the first in a series examining current and future skills needs in key sectors of the economy, including retail, food, manufacturing and resources. The reports complement AWPA’s national workforce development strategy, which is published every three years. Future Focus, the most recent strategy, was released in March.
 
The ICT workforce study 2013 identifies ICT as a vital enabler of productivity and innovation in a range of industry sectors, and it looks at the importance of an effective skills pipeline to making the most of these opportunities.
 
While recent enrolment trends in both higher education and vocational education and training (VET) are encouraging, there are high drop-out rates from courses, and some graduates have difficulty finding work in ICT occupations.
 
Approximately 68 percent of ICT professional positions are held by people between 25 and 44 years of age, yet there are limited entry-level positions, with many employers complaining that graduates do not have the necessary business and communication skills to succeed.
 
Low numbers of female and mature-aged workers are limiting the supply of skills to the ICT industry, with women occupying less than 20 per cent of positions in the majority of ICT occupations.
 
The ICT industry also suffers from negative perceptions of male-dominated, desk-bound, repetitive, isolating jobs. These perceptions are at odds with the emergence of dynamic, creative, flexible, interdisciplinary ICT careers.
 
There are concerns that ICT education in schools is reinforcing these perceptions by presenting an outdated view of the industry.
 
The commitment of businesses to ongoing skills development in ICT also comes under question. While many multinational ICT firms have highly effective workforce development strategies, there is limited investment by many ICT organisations in building the pool of skills.
 

The report presents a series of recommendations aimed at boosting ICT skills and capabilities, and lifting the level of digital literacy across the broader economy, including:

  • targeted promotion to motivate and excite people to take up ICT careers
  • greater investment in the professional development of ICT teachers
  • improvements to work-integrated learning programs
  • proposals for a graduate conversion program and a cross-disciplinary unit on digital literacy to increase the quantity of workers with ICT skills
  • approaches to boost the engagement of under-represented groups in the sector.
“The ICT sector is a key enabler of innovation and productivity, and its influence will be felt in every sector of the economy," Mr Shreeve said.
 
“If Australia is to maximise the potential of the NBN and move confidently in the Asian century, we need to ensure that the possibilities of ICT careers are effectively communicated, and that more people are motivated to engage in ICT during their education and throughout their careers.”
 
The Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) is an independent statutory body which provides advice to Government on Australia’s current, emerging and future skills and workforce development needs.
 
The ICT workforce study 2013 is available at www.awpa.gov.au
Media contact: Bob Bowden 02 9241 2811 or 0412 753 298 bbowden@bowmac.com.au
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