Australian employers will be looking for more than 30,000 information technology workers this year, with most businesses already having difficulty finding the skilled people they need, according to a Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu survey.
The survey, commissioned by the IT&T Skills Task Force, found the industry demand for skilled employees is growing at about 9 per cent each year, with growth expected to continue for the next five years.
Ron Spithill, a task force member who is president of the Australian Telecommunications Association and chief executive of Alcatel, said the demand stems from the impact of the Internet.
"It has caused an explosion in Internet applications, communications networks and computing systems," he said.
Skills in greatest demand are client/server applications, Internet, multimedia, database management services and system software support. Strong growth is also forecast for services consulting.
Although most positions require at least one to three years experience, Spithill said he believes that a long-term solution is a mix of both "graduates and experienced IT professionals.
"The task force will work on two aspects; firstly, increasing the number of graduates, which means creating awareness in schools and universities," Spithill said. "Secondly, a greater focus on retraining in the short term."
Spithill said the problem is not confined to Australia. Studies from the US Department of Commerce have identified a shortage of 300,000 IT professionals in the US, according to Spithill.
"The skills shortage is a global one," agreed Alan Baxter, chairman of Australian Information Industry Association and chief executive of DMR Consulting.
"Australian IT&T professionals are very well regarded around the world and will be attracted offshore if we don't provide the right business environment here. This will cause a downward spiral in our national competitiveness," Baxter said.
The IT&T Task Force has three approaches to the problem.
"Firstly, we want to properly understand what the needs are, which is why this survey was commissioned," Spithill said.
"The survey also reveals details of where the major shortages are and where growth areas lie. This will provide more up-to-date data for educational institutions."
Secondly, the task force is about to put in place a permanent institution to ensure communication between industry and education is ongoing.
Finally, the task force will increase awareness of opportunities in the IT&T industry, especially in schools.
The IT&T Task Force will present a range of industry-driven proposals at a seminar in Canberra on 2 September, which will be attended by government ministers. "We would like the federal and state governments to cooperate and collaborate with us as they have major influence in the education sector," Spithill said.