James Riley
July 29, 2013

ICT Skills: Crisis? What crisis?

ICT Skills: Crisis? What crisis?
 

The Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency’s ICT Workforce Study has sunk without a trace. Which is a shame. It is a serious piece of work that deserves some industry attention, even if some of its recommendations fall well short.

Aside from a launch interview earlier this month on ABC Radio’s AM program, the study has generated precisely zero coverage in the mainstream media. And virtually none in the technology trade press.

Admittedly the change of Prime Minister has removed all the oxygen out of the national media, but the silence in trade publishing land is poor form indeed.

If nothing else, the sinking of the ICT Workforce Study demonstrates just how badly this industry sucks at articulating a message. It is dreadful. If we can’t sustain a conversation with the rest of the economy on the back of a study of this scope (and on a problem of this magnitude), then it is hardly a surprise the sector will continue to be treated like an after thought.

It really is that grim.

There is some good reading in this report. Really, there is. It identifies and attempts to quantify a bunch of problems that are well known in our industry. Which is terrific.

It makes 16 recommendations, all of them worthy. As part of each recommendation, the study nominates the stakeholder group that should take the lead in pressing for an outcome.

And this is where things start to fall apart for me.

If we are relying on the worthy efforts of the Australian Council of Deans of ICT, the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Information Industry Association to chart our way out of this skills problem, we are in deep shit.

With the greatest of respect to the Australian Computer Society, it is difficult to imagine an organisation less appealing to young people.

And yet the study recommends that the ACS engage with secondary school students to highlight what an exciting and diverse career can be enjoyed in the tech sector. And in conjunction with the AIIA develop marketing collateral to change perceptions in secondary schools about the tech sector jobs.

The kind of structural shift that will move the minds of secondary students won’t come from the ACS organising some school visits, and frankly won’t come from the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency.

It can only come from a top-down, national prioritisation of technology and innovation as a central cornerstone of everything we do in our economy. And in that regard, we are nowhere. We are talking in circles.

The Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency was asked to produce its ICT Workforce Study following an ICT Skills Forum held by the Australian Government at Parliament House last November.

This forum also announced the creation of a new ICT Working Group for skills. This working group will take forward the recommendations of the workforce study.

It is now eight months since with Parliament House forum was held. The Working Group has still not been named.

And another thing: Kevin Rudd addressed the National Press Club earlier this month on productivity improvement as a national priority. If you were waiting for ICT skills be be mentioned – let alone explored – either during the speech or during the Q&A, you were disappointed.

And if the ICT industry is wondering whether it has a seat at the table at the productivity mini summit (effectively a Prime Ministerial sit down with the Business Council of Australia and the Unions), you can stop wondering.

You don’t have a seat, and until the industry can better articulate a message, it won’t be getting one.

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