Research collapse sours IT jobs lift

Unemployment amongst IT professionals in the research and development and education sectors has nearly tripled in the last two years, taking the gloss off a wider IT jobs recovery.

According to the Australian Computer Society's annual ICT Employment Survey for 2004, R&D and education sectors hemorrhaged tech jobs at a near exponential rate, with job losses rising from 4.4 percent in 2002 to 11.1 percent in 2004.

The academic result jars sharply with the survey's wider trend which found ICT employment has rebounded strongly from cyclical lows.

Across the board, the ACS found better news with unemployment among its membership dropping significantly to 7.2 percent in 2004 from 12.1 percent in 2002. Despite the lift in jobs, the ACS cautioned the ICT unemployment baseline remains more than 2 percent higher than the current Australian Bureau of Statistics' labour force data national average of 5.1 percent unemployment.

Project managers faired the best out of the survey, with vacancies dropping from 19.6 percent in 2003 to 8.9 percent in 2004, suggesting strong reinvestment by the corporate and government sectors in IT - albeit still 3.8 per cent higher unemployment rate than the national average.

The latter figure is also probably substantially understated by virtue of many private and public sector organizations holding off large IT reinvestments in lieu of the October 2004 federal election.

The situation on the programming and business analysis front also continues to worsen, with the ACS again pointing to heavily discounted labour sourced through Australia's highly malleable visa system as a cause for rising unemployment.

The survey claims unemployment among programmers has risen from 18 percent of ICT jobless in 2003 to 22.2 percent in 2004, while business analysts rocketed from 5.4 percent claiming they were unemployed in 2003 to 17.8 percent in 2004.

Having already labelled the 457 visa system as open to rorting, ACS president Edward Mandla said he is "deeply concerned that both our permanent and temporary migration programs have contributed to Australian unemployment."

"[Australia's] permanent and temporary visa programs are still bringing in high numbers of inexperienced programmers - and programmers currently have the highest unemployment levels in Australia. This makes no sense," Mandla said.

The ACS survey was compiled from a sample of 642 responses with 4.9 percent response rate, with thinktank Access Economics cited as providing "professional advice in how to interpret results" from the survey.

Loss of students blamed for slump

Those familiar with IT on the academic circuit point to a drop in revenues overseas students as a major factor hitting the R&D sector.

Managing partner of strategic and policy consultancy Sanseman Government, Matthew Tutaki cited "a marked downturn in the number of overseas students" as a causal factor, adding "this directly funds R&D in tertiary institutions."

"Australia's education sector doesn't yet understand how to compete in the global R&D economy. Do not underestimate the impact of the loss of revenue from international students," Tutaki said.

He added that corporate funding for IT development has also waned significantly in favour of cheaper offshore destinations.

Tutaki said Australian IT unemployment was "comparatively high considering we are an innovation based economy."

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