Lack of ICT skills and industry support puts Australia in grave danger

Infrastructure salaries jump 8.7 percent

Australia is in grave danger of falling off the world stage if it didn't commit to growing its ICT industry and addressing the worsening skills crisis, NICTA CTO, Dr Chris Nicol, warned today.

As this year's presenter of the Warren Centre's 2007 Innovation Lecture, Dr Nicol called on industry and government to address the nation's ICT talent crisis.

The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering is an independent, industry-linked institute.

In a frank and forthright address, Dr Nicol, who also serves on the IT&T committee of the Industry R&D Board and is the inventor of 17 US patents, said if the problem isn't addressed today Australia's ICT pipeline will be dry within a few years.

He said the 'tech-wreck' left a bad taste around IT careers and gave the ICT brand a bad name.

'Six years ago, Australian universities had a relatively healthy intake of domestic students into IT courses," Dr Nicol said.

According to the Department of Education Science and Training, Higher Education Reports 2001-2005, as much as 7 per cent of students commenced IT studies at tertiary institutions.

"Since then, the numbers have gone backwards markedly, with as little as three percent of total students enrolling in IT courses in 2005," he said.

The situation is just as dark and gloomy when it comes to ICT exports.

While Australia increased its spend on ICT as a percentage of GDP by almost two percent over 2000-2005, much of this comes from imports such as PlayStations, TVs and other gadgets.

"Our exports have dropped and we haven't kept up with other comparable OECD economies such as Ireland, Japan and Korea. For example, Ireland has approximately the same level of ICT imports, but exports over ten times more ICT than Australia,"he said.

Dr Nicol believes Australia needs to reposition the ICT industry within the community.

"Most of our kids are interacting in virtual communities, playing complex computer games, manipulating multi-media wireless messages and downloading music over the Internet, and yet there appears to be a level of disinterest amongst young people in pursuing careers in ICT," he explained.

The central nervous system within most of these systems are Embedded Systems.

Dr Nicol said over 98 percent of computer processor chips are embedded in products - not in PCs.

"In 10 years from now high-end automobiles will have about 600 embedded processors in them - executing billions of lines of software - how many are we going to develop in Australia?" he asked.

"We still have a good chance to change things, provided government, industry, education and media join forces to help restore faith in the industry and develop a national ICT brand."

NICTA is a national research institute with a charter to build Australia's pre-eminent Centre of Excellence for ICT and is funded by the federal government.

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Dr Nicol's call to industry and government coincided with the release of the Hays Information Technology Salary Survey which showed an extremely buoyant IT job market.

The majority of employers reported salary increases of three to six percent.

Hays regional director, Peter Noblet, said 64 percent of survey respondents are now considering sponsoring candidates from overseas, this supports federal government figures showing a record number of 457 visas have been issued in 2007.

Noblet said this is a significant increase on 44 percent last year.

Salaries are particularly high in Queensland and Western Australia. For example, Brisbane infrastructure salaries increased by 8.2 percent and in Perth by 8.7 percent.

The biggest winners were network designers with salaries rising $20,000 while the typical salary for an analyst programmer rose from $67,000 to $80,000 in Brisbane and from $60,000 to $75,000 in Perth.

"From CIOs and program directors to entry level helpdesk staff, there is a demand for skills with a dearth of supply," Noblet said.