Next-Gen ICT Professionals in Australia

Last month I attended the ICT: Making the Connection Summit 2009 which discussed issues currently facing the ICT industry and the providers of ICT higher education.

Students enrolling in IT undergraduate courses within Australia have fallen constantly every year since 2001, from 10,560 enrollments (in 2001) to 5,059 enrollments (in 2007), representing a decline of 52% over 6 years.  Worse still, is the number of applicants into these degree places have fallen from 15,130 applicants (in 2001) to 5,146 applicants (in 2007), representing a decline of 66% over 6 years.  Compounding this is that half of these enrolments are from international students.  In general, this equates to both lower quantity and quality of IT graduates entering the workforce each year in Australia.

The employment of ICT professionals has increased from 190,200 (in 2001) to 224,000 (in 2007), representing an increase of 18% over 6 years whilst incorporating the dot com bubble burst period.  Therefore we have growing demand and shrinking supply.  Currently this imbalance is being met through migrant ICT skilled workers, and capping demand through outsourcing ICT overseas. 

Here are my thoughts on why students have lost interest in ICT as a career option:

1. Perception and Image

ICT is still incorrectly considered to be for geeks working in a basement – check out this stereotypical, but great sitcom called The IT Crowd.

2. Outsourcing and Importance

Australian organizations have been aggressively outsourcing aspects of their ICT overseas.  News of this outsourcing is published in the daily papers and incorrectly reinforces the perspective to the Australian community that ICT is unimportant.

3. R&D and Innovation

Australian organizations are great adopters of technology, but are not great inventors of technology.  This is where the most exciting news occurs within ICT and the wider community, and the source of this news is predominately coming from overseas based organizations.

4. Hype cycles

The dot com bubble burst and many ICT professionals were hurt both financially and emotionally.  Many of these ex-ICT professionals share their unfortunate experiences and indirectly influence future students to avoid the ICT industry.

4. Fragmented ICT associations

Australia has numerous and diverse ICT associations which is fantastic.  Unfortunately, it has the side effect of diluting the voice of the ICT community, which is necessary to influence both government policy and community perceptions.

5. High-profile ICT failures

Australia has experienced high-profile ICT failures within both government and industry, though I anticipate that industry conceals these more.  These failures, which are an indictment to ICT, do reduce the appeal of ICT.  People in general want to be associated with success, and the risk adverse culture within Australia does not tolerate failure.

6. Glass-ceiling

The top positions (CEO, Chairman, etc.) of organizations are dominated by those with a business or law degrees.  Too few ICT degree holders ascend to these positions and therefore the influence of ICT is diminished.  ICT should play a more strategic role in business which requires ICT expertise at the top positions.  This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation as it is sometimes difficult to get momentum where like-minded appoint like-minded.

7. K12 curriculum

This is probably the biggest issue.  Computers are now ubiquitous in their usage and 70% of students with high IT ability believe they learn more at home than at school.  For instance, some students are taught Microsoft Excel for two years as part of their computing curriculum – to me, this is like learning how to use a calculator for Maths, or a dictionary for English.  There is confusion by educators between using tools and applying knowledge.  The subject of computing should be removed at the K12 levels and taught as part of other subjects.  For example, students can learn how to develop algorithms in Maths, how to design user interfaces in Art, or learn about the transformational impact of computers within society in History.  The application of computing in other subjects would allow students to appreciate the relevance and practicality of computing.  However, if K12 curriculum must include a computing subject then teach something that can both stimulate and excite students, like Lego Mindstorms or Microsoft Kodu.

There was recently a relevant article in CIO on How to attract Next-Gen IT Workers.  The article advices to use partnerships with schools to attract and shape youth for careers in ICT.  In a similar aspect, QSR International has just started partnering with the Monash University Faculty of IT with its Industry-Based Learning program to help develop the future generation of ICT professionals.


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One Response to “Next-Gen ICT Professionals in Australia”

  1. Ranjiv Says:

    Thought provoking article. Your observations on the K12 curricula in particular…some great ideas there for restructuring it. Young minds need to be captivated by and grounded in the various core aspects of computing and not just taught how to be drivers of software tools like Excel.

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