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Australia still unprepared for the digital revolution: Westpac CIO

Australia still unprepared for the digital revolution: Westpac CIO

Westpac CIO Dave Curran has called for a greater focus on IT education

Westpac CIO Dave Curran

Westpac CIO Dave Curran

Australia remains unprepared for the "digital revolution" with too few young Australians studying IT, according to Westpac's chief information officer Dave Curran.

"From where I’m standing Australia is not yet prepared for this revolution," the CIO said in remarks prepared for a forum held yesterday evening at the University of Technology, Sydney.

“The need for change in Australian education is urgent. If we want the next generation of Australians to succeed in the digital age, we need to pick up the pace through our education system, in the way we’re raising our kids and in the way we run our businesses.”

Since the release of the first iPhone in 2007, there's been a drop in Australian university students studying IT, the CIO said citing figures released by ACS.

“In the last decade the number of young people starting IT courses at university has fallen by over 50 per cent; however there has been a 31 per cent growth in industry employment — which tells us there is broken supply/demand equation," Curran said.

“In short we have a talent drought at a time when we need skilled people — lots and lots of them — to power the digital revolution.”

Young Australians, particularly young women, aren't encouraged to study IT, he said.

The Australian IT sector is still struggling to attract and retain women, the CIO said.

In addition Australian parents don't understand the impact that technology will have on the future occupations of their children.

"When we do have talent coming through the pipeline we often let it slip away overseas," the CIO added.

“I just recently returned from a trip to Silicon Valley where I met dozens of young Australian entrepreneurs who are making it in the United States after failing to get support in Australia.

“Or even worse, they didn’t even try to establish their businesses here but jumped immediately on a plane with their amazing ideas.

“While I think we’ve made inroads into supporting startups in Australia and keeping some incredible innovations in our backyard, both business and government have more work to do in supporting this growing sector of our economy.”

He pointed to Westpac's $50 million investment in in VC fund Reinventure, which made the bank a proxy investor in Bitcoin startup Coinbase, and its investment in Australian quantum security company Quintessencelabs as examples of how the bank is backing startups.

"Australia is a smart country and we’ve got a long history of innovation, but to thrive in the digital revolution we need to get smarter, more productive and more innovative," Curran said.

There should be more collaboration in the corporate sector to address the IT skills shortage, he said.

"It's no accident that Westpac established its Bicentennial Foundation," the CIO said.

"We've invested $100 million to fund 100 scholarships a year, forever. At UTS alone we'll fund four scholarships per year for young technologists, and across the country by April 2017 ... we will have 82 Westpac young technologists.

"This is just one example of how corporate Australia can play a role in getting young people engaged and interested in a career in IT."

Corporates should hire more graduates and "ensure there are challenging and interesting roles for them so we don’t lose talent overseas".

Curran announced that he would take the four students from Westpac Bicentennial Foundation technology partner universities on an international study tour next year.

"The students will be selected based on their performance and aptitude throughout their undergraduate degree in their penultimate year, as well as their passion for Australia’s technology industry," Curran said.

"The study tours will include attending international conferences on the four topics most relevant to the digital revolution: Social and mobile, analytics, cloud and cyber security."

Universities need to adapt their courses to the diversity of IT roles that now exist, the CIO said

"Gone are the days where an IT graduate gets a job as a programmer," he said.

"The jobs of the digital revolution are things like data scientists, cloud architects, gamification designers, and cyber security specialists. These are also the jobs that current curriculums are not preparing our students for. Why don’t we have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in cyber security?"

In the broader community there should be support for engaging children in IT before they reach tertiary education.

"It's positive to see the government developing a vision in this area and consulting with business," the CIO said.

"Governments influence the number and types of people that live in Australia and their skillsets; they determine our regulatory policy, build the infrastructure and set the educational standards.

“Business creates value, takes risks, innovates and pursues growth and builds a resilient, skilled and innovation driven workforce.

"But our first collective job is to have the same vision and be pulling in the same direction – a smart, innovative, and productive Australia."

"Simply put, if we are to keep up with our global competitors, we had better step up our commitment to improve technology education, as these jobs are vital to just about every sector of the economy, not just financial services," the CIO said.

"I'm calling on business and industry to take the lead on this. We must act now to create a bright future for our economy and for the IT sector in this country."

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