West failing to meet IT needs

January 28, 2000

Western nations are facing a shortage of millions of professional information technology workers, according to researchers at Monash University in Melbourne.

The researchers have called on the Australian government to earmark special funds for public universities for information technology training.

They say the government is wrongly relying on the migration of skilled workers from other countries and foreign students to meet the growing demand.

A paper prepared for Monash's Centre for Population and Urban Research says global competition makes it increasingly difficult for Australia to attract skilled workers.

A report last year by the European Commission said inadequate training had created 500,000 information technology job vacancies in the European Union. The report warned that unless urgent action was taken, this will escalate to 1.6 million by 2002.

In a report last June, the United States Department of Commerce's office of technology policy estimated the numbers of core workers needed by 2006 would be 2.6 million - up from 1.5 million in 1996.

Major corporations such as Microsoft persuaded Congress to almost double the annual skilled temporary-entry programme from 65,000 to 115,000 in 1999 and 2000 but experts say that although almost half the entrants are information technology personnel, this number is still insufficient to meet the growing demand.

Canada's Software Human Resource Council estimates there will be more than 20,000 software engineering positions unfilled nationally this year.

Because every position created in the high-technology sector tends to create two indirect jobs, the council said the loss to the Canadian economy of not filling these positions could be 60,000 jobs.

An Australian industry survey of demand estimates that during the next five years demand for trained staff will grow by 9 per cent annually.

With the existing severe shortage - vacancies are estimated to be about 30,000 - the Monash researchers said the situation could only get worse.

Although the federal government has urged universities to increase enrolments in computer science and related courses, it has so far failed to provide targeted funds to create new places for local students, the Monash team said.

Universities face restrictions on the number of government-funded student places they can allocate to information technology courses, and the availability of computing teachers and facilities is limited.

The researchers argue that the global shortage provides a strong incentive for Asian families to invest in their children's education in a country such as Australia.

Last year the Australian government changed immigration rules so that foreign students who complete a computing degree in Australia are virtually guaranteed permanent residence.

But the researchers say this means that only those who can afford the fees will benefit from the expansion of a key industry offering high financial rewards.

"By contrast there will be little increase in opportunities for local students," they say. "The appropriate government response should be the allocation of additional earmarked funds for information technology training for local undergraduates."

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