Skills shortage problem becoming critical

Australia's greatest challenge in the next decade of ecommerce will be to overcome the mounting skills shortage epidemic, which has already seen a surge in overseas outsourcing.

This was the most articulated concern raised at the NOIE (National Office for the Information Economy) E-commerce beyond 2000 seminar on Friday. The seminar, which followed the February release of the NOIE's research report of the same name, was attended by IT industry practitioners, consultants and academics.

NOIE is a Federal Government department which operates as part of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

According to Professor Peter Dixon, director of the Monash Centre of Policy Studies, who spoke at the seminar, Australia has established itself as "very good at identifying the demand but not very good at supplying" satisfactorily skilled IT staff.

Accordingly, representatives from high-profile IT&T companies and recruitment agencies admitted they were unable to fill most technology-oriented positions with Australians because overseas-trained staff were better qualified for the job. Even then it was difficult to attract overseas technology-savvy staff to work in Australia because similar positions earned higher salaries overseas, they said.

However, Kerry Barwise, managing partner for the Allen Consulting Group, who also spoke at the seminar, stressed that the soaring IT skills shortage was not a government concern because education was "up to the individual".

IDG recently learnt that certificate training courses for Microsoft, Cisco and Novell-specific qualifications cost between $8000 and $24,000, payable up front. Course duration, and consequently the cost of training, is generally less for experienced IT practitioners.

According to NOIE research, an ecommerce-driven economy will see Australia's GDP rise by 2.7 per cent. Dixon explained that this figure meant Australia was likely to cram 11 years of economic growth into 10 years. Meanwhile, unemployment will remain close to 8 per cent, although wages would rise by an average of 3.5 per cent, he predicted.

Ecommerce will see a boost in revenues attracted to Australia by manufacturing and exporting technology products, but will see a marked decline in export revenues from natural resources, locally manufactured clothing, textiles and footwear, he said.

Western Australia, which is predominantly reliant on its mining and natural resources industries, will suffer more than other Australian states from an economy shifting focus towards ecommerce, he said.

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