A shortage of information technology professionals is forcing industry to partner universities to upskill staff in a move that businesses hope will have the extra benefit of reducing staff churn. Queensland University of Technology has seen a rise in industry demand for customised IT programs of about 20 per cent , as organisations adopt the "golden handcuff" concept of providing specialised training to staff with the intention of boosting skills but also inducing higher staff loyalty.
The university provides a number of specialised postgraduate certificate programs to organisations, including the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, in the area of IT security, where labour shortages have been particularly problematic for several years.
It is also in discussions with a state government department about developing a customised graduate certificate in e-health.
Non-award industry certification programs are also in demand, such as the one it delivers to senior architects at Indian technology outfit Infosys.
The university's director of professional services in the faculty of information technology, Greg Timbrell, said a fall in IT enrolments countrywide in recent years had contributed to skill shortages and organisations recognised they needed to "grow their own" skilled workforce.
"We're finding now, since the skills shortage started to kick in, that people are becoming a lot more interested in using education and training as a strategy to retrain or attract staff, and that's going to increase as shortages grow," he said. "They want to try to keep people within their organisation, so they sponsor them through courses, masters programs, or graduate certificates, hoping that they will stay with the organisation."
Dr Timbrell said the tight IT labour market meant many organisations had to "weed out" the senior technology people who could move into client-facing roles, rather than try to recruit into these roles externally.
Griffith University has also responded to an industry demand to fill a skills gap, developing a new postgraduate qualification that will allow business professionals to cross-train so that they can move into IT roles, and vice-versa.
Griffith's head of the school of information and communication technology, Michael Blumenstein, said the new master of enterprise architecture, which would be available next year, was in direct response to counsel received from its technology industry advisory group, which had identified a major knowledge gap between business executives and technology managers. The program comprised elements of an MBA and master of IT.
The university had also found many of its master of IT students were business graduates seeking a conversion course to get the IT skills they required.
Along with core leadership, management and enterprise architecture units, students entering from an IT or engineering degree will undertake units in HR management and business communication, while graduates entering from business degrees will study practical software and hardware architecture and information management.
"There aren't many graduates out there period, but it's difficult to find graduates skilled in a way that perfectly matches what industry wants," Dr Blumenstein said.
Australian Computer Society national president Philip Argy said apart from some big multinationals, there were few examples of IT companies upskilling staff internally - despite workforce pressures.
It was a crucial step for all organisations as over the next three to five years India and China would need to import more IT skills.
"If we think we're seeing a skills shortage now, we ain't seen nothing," Mr Argy said. "We need to make a concerted effort to identify the skillset that business and industry is going to need in four to five years time and invest in curriculum development."
He said the cost of bringing new employees into a company was high. "I don't think we invest enough in taking existing staff and upgrading or cross-training their skills".
Fairfax Business Media
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