Skills take centre in Queensland

The Queensland government signalled its intentions to put an end to a deepening skills shortage with its hosting last week of the National ICT Skills Summit in Brisbane.

The summit was used to announce a number of new state and federal initiatives, largely centered on encouraging more people to pursue a career in IT.

The federal Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) announced it will fund the creation of an open-access national ICT skills tracking and monitoring system based on the Victorian model to help bolster ICT skills.

The system will be based on the one developed by the Information Technology Contract and Recruitment Association (ITCRA) and Multimedia Victoria, a Web-based data collection of IT placements. It will present any information collected on the Skills Australia Web site.

"I am pleased to announce that ITCRA has been successful in its application for funding under the Information Technology Online (ITOL) Program," IT Minister Senator Coonan said. "The National ICT Skills Monitoring Establishment Project will improve ITCRA's current data collection and dissemination processes."

The announcement followed Coonan's release of the ICT skills working group's report - Building Australian ICT Skills - which outlines a number of recommendations in addition to the national monitoring system. The report recommends the formation of an industry leadership group to develop and facilitate improved ICT information and participation in ICT occupations and careers.

Coonan said there is an "urgent" need to address the negative perception of ICT careers in the community, which is turning many young people away from considering a career in the "dynamic" sector, and believes the report will make a significant contribution to understanding the changing needs of the ICT industry and the economy as a whole.

The report also cited "flow-on effects" within the ICT industry of intergenerational social and demographic factors, such as the ageing workforce, changing workplace attitudes, and negative perceptions of ICT careers due to a poor understanding in schools of the diversity of ICT opportunities as areas of concern.

A lack of multi-jurisdictional cooperation in addressing ICT skills is also seen as a hindrance.

Other recommendations include better aggregation of ICT jobs and data on the skills market, additional research into staff retention and "upskilling", a national ICT awareness campaign to market the attractiveness of IT as a career, and action to review and enhance the teaching of ICT in schools.

During his keynote address at the summit, Queensland's IT policy minister Chris Cummins announced a $250,000 program to encourage an injection of talent into the state's ICT industry.

The funding will go towards ICT career promotional programs through the new ICT Career Start program.

The ICT Career Start program is part of the Queensland 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 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 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.

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

Key outcomes of the ICT Skills Summit

Queensland government to spend $500,000 over two years to improve the image of IT as a career option.

The ICT Career Start Program will offer between $10,000 and $25,000 funding to Queensland-based organizations for activities that stimulate interest in ICT careers.

DCITA releases a report "Building Australian ICT Skills" outlining a number of recommendations to foster skills development. The report is online at available at www.dcita.gov.au/building_ICT_skills

DCITA will also fund the creation of an open-access national ICT skills tracking and monitoring system based on the Victorian model to help bolster skills.

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