Two years ago, Human Services could only attract seven IT graduates to its workforce. If there was a silver lining to the global financial crisis, it was a reprieve from what has become an ongoing issue around IT graduates in Australia.
“We take on about 150 IT graduates a year,” deputy secretary for ICT infrastructure, John Wadeson, told the audience during the Trans-Tasman Business Circle executive panel discussion at the SAS Forum in Sydney.
“Two years ago we went to the market and I think we got seven. Last year, after the GFC, we got 200 — all of a sudden a job in government looked a lot better,” he joked wryly. “But I think this is a temporary reprieve.”
The panel, which also included SAS chief executive officer, Dr Jim Goodnight, managing director and CEO of the Bank of Queensland, David Liddy, the chairman of SkyCity Entertainment Group and director of Telecom New Zealand, Rod McGeoch, and the managing director and global head of economics and research for Westpac, Bill Evans, examined the issues facing businesses in a global economy, including dwindling numbers of graduates in disciplines such as mathematics.
“Certainly in the US we are getting less and less interest to go into these areas. They tend to prefer history and social studies,” Dr Goodnight said. “But, you know, the next breakthrough in nanotechnology or the next medical breakthrough is not going to come from liberal arts people. I'm sorry, it's just not going to happen. The more skills you develop the greater the likelihood that’s where the innovation will come from.
“In the past year, the number of US patents filed from non-US residents was greater than US. And that’s the first time in history that has occurred.”
In the last year, the US produced 1.3 million college graduates. By contrast India produced 3.1 million and China, 3.3 million. Closer to home, Australian universities must work to attract candidates to the technical fields.
“I chair a Smart State council in Queensland,” said Bank of Queensland’s Liddy. “One of the two initiatives this year that the government has picked up is ‘Making Maths Matter’ and it is about applied mathematics. If you look at all the countries that have done exceptionally well in the world, I totally support the idea that liberal arts studies are not going to get us where we need to get. We need many more applied mathematicians to drive innovation in business. Australia sits very low in the headcount.”
Wadeson said Human Services is in constant contact with universities but some only run information technology as part of a degree.
“They’re not getting enough students wanting to do the full IT degree,” he told forum delegates. “The universities go back and point at the dot com bust but we’re well away from that now. And while there are some that are very innovative in trying to bring up the numbers I think it is a very serious issue for us because Australia is becoming increasing dependent on information technology.”