Government launches Gershon-inspired ICT workforce strategy

Government agencies to hire entry-level and professional IT workers through university, ACS programs

The Australian Government has released an ICT workforce strategy in an effort to fight an ageing workforce and promote new hires amongst government departments over the next three years. The plan is the latest in a spate of whole-of-government IT reforms initiated by the release of the Gershon report, and are expected to aid major government projects including the National Broadband Network, Service Delivery Reform and the Government 2.0 Taskforce reforms.

Under the plan, entitled Whole-of-government ICT strategic workforce plan 2010-2013, the government would hire newly graduated IT workers through cadetship programs and hire professionals through links with the Australian Computer Society.

The report was a joint effort by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) and the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO).

In following recommendations laid out by Sir Peter Gershon in his report on government IT expenditure, the workforce strategy will not be mandated on all agencies, with individual departments offered the chance to opt-out of the program. However, those involved would be required to annually re-assess their ICT workforce plans.

The report found that 34 per cent of government agencies identified a shortage of ICT professionals as their most pressing workforce challenge, though only five per cent of agencies having completed a workforce strategy to combat this. Department of Defence chief technology officer Matt Yannopoulous recently told the Australian Computer Society 2010 Canberra conference that his department was also facing the struggle

"Whilst we have more than a couple of thousand people, we have a remarkably small number of people who are actually IT professionals, and that is something we are seeking to address over the coming period," he said.

Though ICT workers are typically better educated than other public service employees, the report found the IT workforce suffers from a number of issues. This includes an increase in the average age of IT workers, and a concentration of the workforce within the capital territory. Currently, three quarters of the public service ICT workforce is located in the capital state which, according to the report, increases "the competition between agencies for skilled ICT employees."

Another issues is the increased off-shoring of IT services, which government departments are traditionally reluctant to become involved in.

The report urges government agencies to begin implementing workforce strategies immediately, though initial investigations and implementation of the hiring programs will not be due until December this year.

“Our aim is to have a workforce that can meet the Federal Government’s future ICT needs,” Minister for Finance and Deregulation Lindsay Tanner said in a statement. “That workforce needs to be sufficiently skilled and mobile to apply the new technologies that will deliver improved services to Australians.”

Without the plan, the government's IT workforce is expected to organically increase by 179 people or 1.5 per cent of the total workforce between June 2009 and 2010. This is half of the overall growth in job vacancies expected in the same period within the private sector.

A job index recently released by recruitment firm Peoplebank found that, although the Australian Capital Territory has seen an increased demand for contract ICT workers in the past three months, salaries for full-time workers have remained stagnant and the pool of professional IT skills is likely to dwindle through this year.

Acting chief executive officer Jeff Knowles told Computerworld Australia that Canberra has seen an increase in the number of permanent IT roles in the past 18 months, but hasn't seen growth at the same rate as the private sector. According to Peoplebank's survey, growth in the ACT has largely revolved around project management and software developers familiar with the .NET and Java platforms

Surveys conducted in collaboration with the workforce report found that those existing public service IT workers intending to leave were worried about future career opportunities and salaries.

Under the government ICT workforce strategy, the APSC would investigate the possibility of improving salaries for ICT workers depending on their role and classification.

The Federal government expects to hire entry-level workers from universities and vocational and training institutes by establishing graduate and cadetship programs at relevant institutions. The intakes for both these and professional-level hiring programs are expected to be established by AGIMO in June of this year.

However, the reduction in IT course enrolments and completions, as well as the increase of non-resident students at universities are likely to have an impact on the number of IT professionals available for hire.

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