ACS: Australian IT needs to get put on the map and in schools

Putting Australian IT on the map for onshoring, creating a more disciplined industry and changing the way we teach IT in schools are at the top of the Christmas wish list for Australian Computer Society president, Edward Mandla.

With these changes, Mandla believes the industry will attract more investment, a greater talent pool and higher salaries.

The first phase of offshoring (lowest-end programming) is over and the next phase, which will include high-level analytics work and knowledge process outsourcing is about to begin, Mandla said at the society's IT in Government conference last week in Canberra.

"Business intelligence, risk and quality analysis as well as IT R&D will start to get offshored. Every day India gets more expensive, and China still has language barriers. Our workforce is still 20 to 40 percent cheaper than in the US and Europe, and if you think about it, that high-end stuff suits our persona- we value IP. We are in the box seat for these roles," he said.

"The problem is, no one has heard of Australian IT. We're not on the map. We don't have a brochure."

To get put on the map, Mandla says the IT industry needs to be better disciplined, better certified, and better trained in order to gain government and international recognition.

"Certainly ministers around the country, the ASX and board directors view our industry as risky. There's no debate about that. I think at the heart of the matter no one knows what an IT or ICT professional is. Parents read it in the paper as an "ict" (he pronounces this phonetically) professional," he said.

Mandla suggests the industry, its 15 ("underpaid") associations, government and vendors need to unite and nut out some essential frameworks. These include the need to decide as an industry which certifications are worthy and required, and how many days of training a professional should receive each year in order to stay current. There is also possibly a need for a list of disbarred professionals, a professional ethical framework, and commission disclosures -- particularly in government deals, he said.

"I think it is part of our journey to make our industry more accountable to the community it serves. When that happens, government liability levels on contracts will tumble and I think you'll see investment funds flood to our industry as confidence increases. Parental attitudes will also then shift and parents will stop discouraging their children from working in IT."

Mandla believes that a lot of the problems associated with the IT profession begin in the way we teach IT and computing in schools, so the ACS has launched an ICT literacy policy that calls for a national IT literacy standard in Australian schools to be assessed at all levels of schooling.

The policy includes recommendations to the government that it implement affordable, high-speed broadband to all schools and supply up-to-date equipment and software.

"Forget about getting woodworking teachers to teach IT to our kids. Our schools need the right equipment and the right broadband so that we can have our kids being taught by the best in the industry electronically," he said.

"That's what our industry is all about. You could have 20 to 30 of the best in the industry teaching the kids through a portal interactively. They are all on IM and iPods anyway so they would be comfortable with that way of learning. They need to use the latest technologies in order to understand them."

Mandla's tenure as ACS president ends on November 30 and elections will be held soon.

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