Qld ups the ante in ICT skills debate with $500,000 grant

The Queensland government has pledged nearly $500,000 over two years to counter what it sees as an ongoing ICT skills shortage in the state which will continue to worsen if left unabated.

During his keynote address to open the National ICT Skills Summit in Brisbane yesterday, Queensland's IT Policy Minister Chris Cummins announced a $250,000 program to encourage an injection of talent into the ICT industry.

The funding will go towards a new program to promote ICT as a viable career choice.

The ICT Career Start program is part of the Beattie government's billion dollar skills plan to reform the state's vocational education and training sector, which includes 23 new skills formation strategies recently announced by the Minister for Employment, Training, Sport, and Industrial Relations, Tom Barton.

Cummins also announced the state's Department of Employment and Training will provide an additional $240,000 to fund a Queensland ICT skills formation strategy.

"Research conducted in the lead up to the summit found that students and parents had little understanding of exactly what ICT careers had to offer," Cummins said, adding there is a perception that ICT jobs we're boring or had poor working environments.

"The new ICT Career Start Program will help turn these perceptions around. It's about providing funding for organizations, such as our local industry associations, to undertake ICT career promotion activities."

The program will offer between $10,000 and $25,000 funding through a competitive process to Queensland-based organizations for conducting activities designed to stimulate interest in ICT careers and engage skilled workers.

Cummins talked up the state's ICT prowess, stating the ICT sector is one of it's key growth industries and is "thriving".

"More than 62,000 Queenslanders are employed in around 4400 ICT businesses, and the industry is generating annual sales of over $21 billion," he said. "ICT is a key Smart State industry and the ICT Career Start program is designed to ensure we have the skilled workers we'll need for the future."

Cummins said increased expenditure on ICT projects is resulting in a demand for specific skills, yet there has been a dramatic decline in ICT related course enrolments at universities - 38 percent over the past two years in Queensland alone.

The announcement is also part of the state's four-year $18.5 million industry development strategy, dubbed, "Smart ICT: Taking IT to the World". This strategy includes encouraging other industries to adopt ICT solutions.

"If we want to ensure a strong and healthy ICT sector we need to act now to make sure the industry will have the skilled workers it will need to continue to grow," Cummins said.

While these initiatives are for Queensland businesses only, Cummins acknowledged the skills shortage is a national issue and said the summit should help develop nation-wide solutions.

For more information on the National ICT Skills Summit, see www.iib.qld.gov.au/skillssummit.

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