The April NBN announcement heralded the creation of up to 25,000 jobs a year for eight years. While fantastic news for the industry, fielding such a large number of mostly highly skilled workers also poses a number of challenges.
Firstly, how does an industry of 300,000 grow by almost 10% to meet this need? And if the best and brightest flock to the NBN, who is going to take up their current roles? Finally, in an industry where more than 70% of employees are over 30, how do we attract the next generation?
A recent survey of more than 1800 Australian teens by the Australian Computer Society and Habbo revealed technology was the top-ranking career choice. This encouraging insight into Generation Z suggests we have a small window of opportunity to get our act together and recruit these tech-savvy individuals to the ICT sector.
It all comes down to three basic drivers: incentives; quality education and training; and appropriate rewards and policies to retain good staff. With 50% of its workforce aged over 45, the education sector has adopted incentives, scholarships and accelerated training programs to help recruit more teachers. The federal government has also announced reduced higher education loan repayments for education graduates who take up a teaching career.
Perhaps the industry should be asking the government to offer similar incentives for ICT graduates. Reinvigorating industry cadetships, scholarships and apprenticeships is another opportunity.
Rewarding and retaining staff has never been a major problem for our industry - the people we do attract tend to be engaged and loyal and our industry has done a good job of being innovative and flexible in the way it rewards and retains employees.
However, education and training is an area where we can do better. TAFE and university courses still tend to be narrowly focused, unlike other fields where new courses and combined degrees offer graduates a wider range of employment opportunities.
The issue of ICT recruitment and training is integral to the NBN infrastructure deployment, the federal government’s Digital Economy agenda and the Innovation Agenda.
With the NBN rollout already underway in Tasmania and Generation Z enthusiastic about an ICT career, one thing is certain - now is not the time for navel-gazing, it’s time for action.