Employers will be faced with a chronic shortage of skilled ICT workers within six months as returning business confidence leads to a fresh wave of major projects, says listed recruitment firm Clarius Group.
David Stewart, chief executive of Clarius division Candle ICT, says he is already starting to see the first signs of a skills shortage as demand picks up for business analysts, test analysts and project managers. "There has been a big pick-up in demand for these roles during the past couple of months and we are finding it hard to fill them already," he says. "These are the roles typically recruited when projects are kicking off.
"There will be demand for more technical positions later on as these projects move from the planning phase into implementation. This indicates that demand in ICT will continue and accelerate.
"We are going to head back into a chronic skills shortage pretty quickly. Within six months it will be constraining the ability of companies to deliver on projects."
Stewart says ICT recruitment in the telecommunications sector has remained pretty busy during the last year despite the economic slowdown because long-term spending commitments were already in place for major projects.
But during the past couple of months he has seen the broader business community make a shift away from seeking contractors towards full-time recruitment as confidence starts to return.
"Companies had been using contractors as a way to get around headcount restrictions," he says. "Now those restrictions have been relaxed so managers can take on the full-time people they probably always wanted in the first place."
Companies want to lock people into full-time positions because they can remember the skills shortage of 18 months ago, Stewart says. The Clarius Skills Index shows there was a shortfall of almost 9000 ICT workers in Australia at that time.
Headcount freezes have been a major issue in Canberra, where federal government agencies and departments have also culled contractor numbers in an attempt to meet aggressive cost-cutting targets imposed by the Department of Finance following the Gershon review of IT spending.
But Stewart says a prolonged period of minimal activity showed signs of finally coming to an end late last year as a number of departments started hiring again.
These included Medicare, the departments of immigration, education and climate change, and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
"Gershon saw a big reduction in demand for contractors as departments tried to hire them as permanent staff," Stewart says.
"Maybe that has now flowed through the system."
Peoplebank Australia, the country's largest provider of technology contract workers, has seen an improvement in hiring intentions among its customer base, which includes a raft of S&P/ASX 200 companies as well as state and federal government departments.
Listed IT services provider SMS Management & Technology also announced in February that it was stepping up recruitment efforts to meet increased
demand for its services, particularly in the financial services and government sector.
"You could argue we should have been faster in cranking recruitment back up again because now we're finding demand outstripping supply," chief executive Tom Stianos says. "We are in top gear when it comes to getting more people on board." MIS Australia
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