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Monday, 13 September 2010 14:58

Digital skills shortage fuels $2billion deficit


Fears have been raised that Australia will remain a net importer of digital content unless local companies can hire more people with current skills. A release issued today by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at QUT estimates the trade deficit already stands at $2 billion.

Professor Greg Hearn, a researcher with the institute told iTWire today that could prove a conservative figure.

While he acknowledged Australia can't expect to have a monopoly on creative digital content, and that some imports would continue, he believed the deficit could be reduced if local companies had access to more skills which would allow them to develop and export more.

He said it was necessary to have a combination of longer term educational strategies so that TAFEs and universities were turning out high quality graduates, plus short top-up courses so that graduates could keep up to date with the fast moving technology platforms targeted by the creative digital industries.

'The real issue is the volatility of the industry - you need an agile response to that,' said Professor Hearn.

One local company presently reaping the whirlwind of volatility is Brisbane based Half Brick Studios, the indie developer behind the runaway success Fruit Ninja for iPads and iPhones. According to Rinal Deo, the company's HR and finance manager, although the company is on the lookout for more high quality designers and coders to add to its existing team of 36 people, the skills crisis has not yet affected it 'To the extent that we are in dire straits.'

'We have a good local pool from Qantm College and the local universities,' said Deo adding that Brisbane along with Melbourne were probably the gaming and creative hubs of Australia. Qantm College, which kicked off its third semester today, has three campuses in Australia which deliver digital media courses.

According to Professor Hearn  Australia's digital content industry - which covers software, computer games, digital videos, websites and animation - accounts for around 3 per cent of the nation's GDP.

'Considering the digital industry's vital role in the economy and the fact that it employs 289,000 people, an investment in human resources is essential to develop this sector,' he said. It's not just fresh bodies that the industry needs though - the $2 billion deficit derives mainly from the gap between what is taught in academia and what is practised in industry.

'There is a generally a gap between the qualifications aspiring creatives receive - and the industry-ready skills that employers are looking for,' according to Professor Hearn. When graduates emerge from college or university, they may find themselves without a job because their skills don't exactly match what the industry needs he warned.

While specific programming skills were needed, particularly those pertinent to new platforms, industry was also seeking employees with business skills, who were able to work in a team, and  deliver a project on time.

'This is an industry where what you can do and who you know are more important than qualifications,' said Professor Hearn, who added that candidates with the right skills could secure very attractive packages from the digital media sector.

Professor Hearn said that the Interactive Skills Integration Scheme was about to conduct a review of the different courses available in digital media around Australia. A QUT PhD project which he will supervise will investigate the human resource development issues for Australia's interactive media industry and work with leading Australian companies in the games and mobile entertainment industry to address the issue.

QUT is also planning to conduct a study comparing creative industries innovation in Australia with that evident in other nations.


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