Jobs or no jobs? That is the question. At present, you'd be hard-pressed to find the answer in the press with so many conflicting viewpoints about the employment prospects for an out-of-work IT professional. This was classically highlighted on July 9 when two articles in the general press gave completely contradictory versions.
In the IT section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Stan Beer had nothing but good news. He happily reported that "after months of talking doom and gloom the evidence is emerging that the IT jobs market may have finally turned the corner". He based his evidence on his own poll of IT recruitment agencies: all had indicated that Q4 of the 2002 financial year had been exceptionally good.
The Australian was not quite so optimistic. In its IT section, Karen Dearne reported that "IT professionals are plunging into personal crisis as the jobs slump and salary crash hits home". She quoted the recently released Icon Index survey, which found that the number of IT positions advertised over the last 12 months is down by at least 50 per cent. Dearne also referred to APESMA's salary survey, which likewise reported a decline in the number of IT job vacancies advertised.
Nevertheless, other indicators for the Australian economy are strong. The Prime Minister stated in July that "the Australian economy was now as healthy as it has ever been in my lifetime". The less subjective economic consultancy Access Economics predicted that current unemployment rates in the country would fall to levels last seen in the early 70s. In its view the Australian economy at present was going "gangbusters". (Interestingly, three days after it made this pronouncement the unemployment rate rose.)Personally, I lean towards Dearne's view. The NSW branch of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) recently organised a career change symposium, which saw a record number of attendees.
When I talk to senior IS executives there is an overriding focus on operational efficiency today. I predict that this state of affairs will continue until 2004 when most Y2K investments will have been depreciated. We'll then see dollars freed up for a fresh tilt at realising the potential of IT.
I think we are also likely to see by then new faces heading up the corporate world. Their option-focused, sharemarket-obsessed predecessors will have been flushed out in the accounting scandals that are now almost a daily news item. Hopefully, these new CEOs and CFOs will appreciate that customer value and employee value are every bit as important to an organisation as shareholder value, and may be receptive to arguments favouring strategic ICT investments.
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