Niche ICT skills still in demand despite economic downturn

Despite hiring freezes and belt tightening, the economic slump does little to abate Australia’s skills shortage

Demand for ICT professionals remains strong despite the gloomy economic climate, according to the Clarius Skills Index.

The inaugural index results showed demand was 4.3 per cent higher than supply in the last quarter – approximately 197,000 workers were needed but there was an estimated supply of only 188,000.

The Australian Computer Society warned in August that the ICT skills shortage gap will grow to 14,000 by 2010, and will continue to reach 25,000 by 2020 unless government and industry heightened collaboration and efforts to address the problem.

David Stewart, CEO of Clarius Group’s ICT division, Candle ICT, said worsening economic conditions had slowed but not triggered an end to the technology skills crisis.

“Recruitment freezes are likely to continue in the short-term, and we have seen a slowdown for roles in permanent placements across Australia. However, niche areas such as .Net, Java, project managers, business analysts, SAP and Cisco are expected to remain in steady demand,” he said.

“The fundamentals for growth in the ICT industry are still there, as companies see the slowdown in the economy as a time to upskill with quality professionals to address the challenges of increasing efficiencies, security measures and money during tight budgets.”

Clarius’ findings are in line with the experiences of numerous recruiters of late; Hudson’s IT&T Recruitment Focus found in mid-November that 69 per cent of employers have not been affected by the economic downturn; numerous big name vendors and distributors confirmed to ARN in mid-October that they would proceed with existing recruitment plans regardless of the general economic situation; and Melbourne-based IT recruiter, Peter Acheson, said an abundance of projects on the cards for 2009 meant the outlook for IT recruitment remains positive.

Most recently, Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, told ARN he disagreed with recruiters and the Australian Information Industry Association when they raised concerns that the Gershon Review’s recommendation to cull government ICT contractors would intensify the skills shortage.

Clarius’ Stewart said the ICT industry will continue to remain short of available candidates, particularly in highly skilled sectors due to low university intake, not enough new skills training and the difficulty in bringing people from other industries across into high niche areas.

The Index ranks labour supply and demand through a scoring system, where a score of 100 indicates equal tension between labour supply and demand. Anything greater than 105 on skills shortages is regarded as extreme, with 95-98 considered moderate.

For the September quarter the Index score for ICT was 104.3, a growth of 1.3 over the same time last year and less than a point off the “extreme” range.

The Clarius Skills Index is a new national indicator measuring supply and demand for skilled labour in ICT by recruiter Clarius Group and will analyse labour demand against supply on a quarterly basis, using labour force data supplied by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

According to the Skills Index, which looks at all industries, the top ten occupations with the highest level of skills shortages, in ascending order, are: Chefs, metal-related tradespersons, hairdressers, automotive-related tradespersons, health professionals, food-related tradespersons, computing professionals, building and engineering professionals, construction tradespersons, and printing tradespersons.

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