Nearly half the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) IT-related skillsets are at critical status, according to an audit report released Thursday.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) found the Department of Defence had rated six of the ADF’s 15 trades with an IT component as critical.
These six trades were in the fields of operator command support systems, technician telecommunication systems, technician electronic radar, technician electronic telecommunications, electronic technician and communication information systems.
The ADF has difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff for its IT trades, the report said.
Titled Management of Specialist Information System Skills, the audit reported on the progress since July 2001 of the Department of Defence’s strategies for recruiting, developing and retaining IT personnel.
The report said Defence acknowledged “recruitment and retention of sufficient numbers of ADF personnel…is a significant area of risk and an emerging priority that must be monitored and adequately addressed if it is to deliver the performance expected of it by the government”.
The proposed Defence People Plan will address this issue when a draft copy is issued later this year.
The report recommended new initiatives to address the IT skilling of Defence’s information system specialist personnel, which were expected to have been developed in 2001, but weren’t, the report said.
Defence also agreed to the recommendation to improve the employment conditions of its software engineers, an area where previous studies had indicated Defence would become understaffed.
The report also said a “whole of Defence strategy” was needed for recruitment and retention instead of individual groups’ “uncoordinated” approaches to IT personnel.
While this will be addressed by the new Defence Workforce Plan, the department said the group approaches arose from the diversity of technical skills in the profession.
However, the ANAO said the global IT downturn made skilled workers in some areas more available.
“The ANAO would expect, at least, coordination of those [group] activities across Defence for positions that have similar skill requirements as part of a ‘clear, whole of Defence strategy’,” the report said.
The report also said Defence was standardising its computer platforms to provide consistency of operation in its separate groups.
In a potential blow to outsourcing opportunities, the report noted ADF staff concerns about the effects of outsourcing on the maintenance of skills, job satisfaction and remuneration.
The report recommended Defence personnel have a role in maintaining outsourced systems, which would help maintain in-house IT skills.
The creation of Defence’s CIO position in recent years had been a “significant strategic change”, the report said.