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These are uncertain times for government planners, would-be IT professionals and business. Some universities warn of looming IT skills shortages amidst definitive evidence of deficits in certain geographies, skill sets and sectors

With so many low-rung programming and maintenance positions being outsourced, what formal processes do our CIOs have in place for entry-level IT hiring?

Tim Catley emerged from a chemical engineering background to become the group IT manager for Nationwide News. Now, as he watches recruits at all levels and from many different disciplines carve out a niche for themselves within News's environs, he knows that while for now they remain oblivious to the possibility, some of them, some day, will become technology leaders like himself.

"These days, people going into the CIO roles understand pretty much an overview of the business. In some cases that's built on an IT-technical background but in many cases it's not. So in that sense, as it certainly was for me, I would think that there would be a very broad cross-section of graduates coming into businesses such as this who wouldn't have the foggiest idea that the CIO role in 15 years' time might be what they do," Catley says.

Yet it starts to look like many of those CIOs-to-be will weave as impromptu and ad hoc a course towards the CIO role as Catley did himself.

For instance, Nationwide News used to sponsor students going through the business technology course at Deakin University, and while some employees doing MBAs still do get a salutary stint in IT, these days the company has no formal program in place to groom IT graduates for the CIO position. And in that News is simply staying true to the wider trend. "We take in recruits at all levels from lots of different disciplines but there is nothing that is focused on running somebody through the organization to end up at the CIO level," Catley says.

These are uncertain times for government planners, would-be IT professionals and business. Some universities warn of looming IT skills shortages amidst definitive evidence of deficits in certain geographies, skill sets and sectors. Some employees or would-be employees decry the supposed skills shortage as a myth and demand to know why, if IT workers are in such short supply, the entire industry, or at least their part of it, seems to be confronting a "dead" job market. Some IT professionals languish uneasily out of work or are forced to take pay cuts, while employers struggle to fill key roles and Canberra loses a $10 million IT project because the Australian Taxation Office could not find 100 qualified staff in the territory to complete the job on time.

At the same time a steady rise in the number of temporary work visas for skilled IT professionals provokes ire and fears that unscrupulous employees might be leading a race to the bottom, in a period when, with IT careers clearly having lost much of their glamour since the heady dotcom days, application rates for IT courses are down even if enrolments - for a smaller number of positions than in the past - are not. In fact Catley's own son started first-year computer science two years ago and dropped out because it did not take his interest, making it a personal, as well as a professional, question for Catley at least.

As if all that were not enough to give any youngster contemplating an IT career - or, for that matter, an organization planning to groom a graduate or three for the CIO role - pause for thought, now we are following America in putting offshore outsourcing firmly on the agenda, at least in the financial services industry, as Australia's largest banks contemplate sending processing to India to cut costs. Factor in that where a decade ago business would routinely write its own software in the name of that elusive competitive edge but now is much more likely to buy off-the-shelf, and it becomes clear many green recruits today, far from starting off cutting code, can be expected to follow radically different career paths than those of yesterday.

"My biggest concern is that with some of these moves to offshore some of the jobs, especially in the development area, we will then see a reduction in the number of young people going into university doing IT courses because of the poor job market we've had here in the last three or four years," Insurance Australia Group (IAG) CIO David Issa says. "It's almost like we're getting ourselves into a cycle that if we don't have people going into the IT courses, we won't therefore in three or four years have graduates coming out that we can hire. Then we will have an acute job shortage and the only option will be to send them to jobs somewhere else, which to me is a shame in this country if we allow that to happen."

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