18 Feb 2019

Australia’s IT skills shortage is getting worse, not better

An awful lot has been said and written about Australia’s IT skills shortage in recent years, so we can all be forgiven for becoming a little desensitised to the message.

However the time for complacency is well and truly over: organisations need to give it their full attention or risk real and lasting consequences.

According to a report by Deloitte Access Economics and The Australian Computer Society on Australia’s ‘digital pulse’ in 2018, demand for ICT workers is expected to grow by 100,000 between now and 2023, putting further strain on local organisations that have already been struggling to find the correct people with the right skills for several years.

IT Security skills situation critical

Of particular concern is that the skills shortfall is proportionally much greater in cyber security.

AustCyber’s Sector Competitiveness Plan 2018 Report cited data from the ‘Department of Jobs and Small Business’ showing that an alarming 42% of vacancies in this area went unfilled in 2015. It also revealed that Australia had a shortfall of 2,300 cyber security workers in 2018, projecting that almost 18,000 new workers would be needed by 2026.

It’s a challenge made worse by the fact there’s a $12,000 average wage premium paid for cyber security workers, with AusCyber adding that it can take 20%-30% longer to fill these roles compared with other IT positions. The report added a sobering footnote estimating the shortage of skills in this area of ICT was already the Australian economy $400 million a year.

The shortage of skills across all areas of ICT poses real threats to organisations as they look increasingly to digital technologies to drive innovation and productivity improvements.

Exacerbating the problem further, is the tendency of our major universities to produce graduates with strong ‘theoretical’ groundings in IT, developed at the expense of hands-on capabilities and any sort of business acumen.

Ten or more years ago it made sense to equip IT graduates with certifications on specific pervasive platforms, but the pace of change has accelerated to the point where these skills are often all but obsolete come graduation day.

Many universities have responded by encouraging students to enroll in Masters degrees to expand their knowledge, however this has done little to address the real problem.

Encouragingly, a handful of institutions are now reshaping IT courses with more emphasis on real-world skills and understanding business, but the fruits of these efforts are years away from being realised.

Australia’s ‘skilled migrant’ programs offer glimmers of hope too, but many organisations are unaware of the red tape how and long the processes can take.

What’s the solution to the IT skills shortage?

In an ideal world, every company would have just the right mix of internal skills and technologies to match their specific business needs and budget, but even the best internal teams are vulnerable to the same challenges facing all.

The choice, therefore, is whether to manage IT fully in-house or to seek help from a Managed Services Provider (MSPs), or a combination of both.

The downsides of pursuing of going it alone and building internal expertise are extensive, including:

  • Competition for good IT people is fierce
  • It’s hard and expensive to attract and retain staff
  • Difficult and expensive to keep IT staff up to speed with the latest technology
  • When IT staff leave, they take valuable IP with them
  • Graduates lack ‘consultancy’ skills that can only be gained through experience
  • Skilled migrant schemes remain immature, problematic, and subject to frequent change based on politics, not need.

By contrast, Managed Service Providers can take a lot of the pain away:

  • MSPs boast the most up-to-date technologies and practises as their core value proposition
  • MSPs offer a unique breadth of experience across different organisations and industries
  • Large numbers of IT professionals on hand mean most technical challenges and requirements can be addressed
  • IP is embedded within the MSP meaning staff departures do not lead to disruption and confusion
  • MSPs ensure technical staff are trained to have a professional understanding of how business works.

To be completely fair, there are downsides to farming IT operation out to an Managed Service Provider, most notably the perceived lack of control organisations feel over both operations and data; that and the fact they don’t actually own the technology infrastructure powering their organisation.

However, with the right Managed Service Provider, the benefits should far outweigh these issues, while more generally the wider business community now better understands the advantages of freeing valuable time and resources to focus fully on driving sales, innovation and ultimately business success – leaving the ‘skills’ problem to specialist professionals.

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