Skills Group Says No Quick Fix

Skills Group Says No Quick Fix

The Federal Government's skills crisis group is planning a three-pronged attack on Canberra's IT skills famine.

But chair of the ICT Skills Taskforce Patrick Callioni admits breaking the skills drought hindering federal government IT initiatives will take time.

Callioni, Divisional Manager of the Australian Government Information Management Office's (AGIMO), says interagency collaboration, co-ordination with Universities and TAFEs and a proposed cadetship program should all make a difference. But he warns agencies against looking for quick fixes to emerge from the group.

While refusing to declare the shortages a crisis, Callioni says "This is a problem that has been brewing for a long time; a long-term problem where there is no silver bullet."

Government IT managers formed the group under the shield of the federal Chief Information Officers Committee (CIOC) last year in a bid to stop federal government IT shops poaching each other's staff. Government IT projects have hit major roadblocks as Canberra-based agencies struggle to recruit and keep IT-savvy people. This has led to long delays and higher implementation costs. Federal CIO Ann Steward leads the task force.

Callioni ascribes three causes to the "insufficient supply of skills in certain areas of IT important to government". First is the changing need and expectation of government, as it demands agencies deliver IT initiatives faster and cheaper. The second is the general skills shortages facing both government and the private sector in the face of major changes affecting the industry. And the third is that universities and TAFE are not necessarily producing job-ready workers for government or the private sector.

"It's a problem now which if not addressed, both by government and the private sector will get much worse later," he says.

To address the issues one program will woo senior high school students and first year university students. It will also see the group working with universities and the TAFE sector to strengthen the abilities of recruits. Callioni says this initiative aims to increase the total pool of available candidates, so a federal government win is no loss for the private sector. The group is working closely with the CIO executive council and has had discussions with the Department of Education Science and Training.

"That's a long-term thing: you're not going to change universities around overnight. And it would be unfair to expect that. It takes three, four, five years to turn somebody out of university," he says.

Another line of attack is to increase collaboration among public sector agencies. Callioni says because governments are legitimately expecting agencies to do more with less, interagency collaboration is nothing new.

"What we are talking about is a significant stepping up of the effort to collaborate."

A third line of attack aims to produce more workers to address the problem in the short to medium term. One initiative under consideration is a stepping up of the cadet and training programs already running in larger agencies like the Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink.

"The Taxes and the Centrelinks can more or less look after themselves but the small to medium guys find it very difficult," Callioni says. "So we're looking at the possibility of having more cadetships and traineeships, and having arrangements for whole-of-government cadetships and traineeships to complement agency specific programs."

The task force hopes to have proposals ready to put to the Information Management Strategy Committee (IMSC) in the first half of this year, and to put a program in place in the latter part of the year. It is also working closely with the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA), which has the responsibility of looking at the skills issue across the broader IT industry, to ensure its initiatives are complementary.

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