The local ICT industry will face a lack of suitable candidates in five years' time unless more high school students start studying ICT, according to Freelancer.com chief executive, Matt Barrie.
Speaking at a NICTA panel discussion in Sydney this week, Barrie said that his experience as an external lecturer at the University of Sydney had indicated less students were enrolling or attending ICT programs.
“The programs are getting worse," he said. "It’s starting at the grassroots bachelor programs. You are seeing enrolment numbers down year-on-year, and the composition of overseas master's students to bachelor's students has been increasing ever so much.”
Barrie said that the types of courses taught have been losing their technical content and becoming “dumbed down”.
“I’ve seen my timetable for next year and my course is moving from 5pm to 7pm with tutorials going to 9pm to cater for the master's students to the detriment of the bachelor's students.”
The lack of PhD students would ultimately come at the detriment of research and disenchanted lecturers, he said.
Despite a recovery in employment in the ICT industry, recruiters and organisations have warned of a looming skills shortage that could be a result of a rise in interest from the financial sector as well as job requirements under the National Broadband Network (NBN).
While ACS chief executive, Bruce Lakin, has dismissed claims of an existing skills shortage, he has said global certification and standards are required to ensure shortages in specific skills areas are not detrimental to the wider industry.
According to Barrie, part of the problem is most lecturers haven’t had a job so they wouldn’t “know how to commercialise anything.”
“Lecturers have very little exposure to the outside world. Something needs to be done with university education and technology.”
The way to combat this, he said, was to get teenagers at high schools interested in ICT.
“There is going to be a huge problem in about four years so we need to start at the high school level and encourage young people to do things like electrical engineering.
“When you see the Facebook movie, The Social Network, everyone is a rock star. That encourages kids in the US to go and study IT but we don’t have anything like that in Australia.”
One program established in universities across Australia sees female high schoolers targeted as potential applicants for future ICT courses and careers.
“We need more people like (Atlassian founder), Mike Cannon Brookes, who is building the next billion dollar software company to list on the ASX and try and build a technology sector here rather than taking it to the US. We need some recent success stories that students can associate with.”