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Tuesday, 07 August 2012 17:50

Offshoring and education dent ICT intake Featured


The ACS Foundation has in the last financial year raised more than $7.4 million from donors, allowing it to support ICT scholarships at a rate of more than one a day. However, the organisation’s executive director has warned that there are serious problems facing the country in terms of access to ICT skills given the dwindling numbers of university enrolments coupled with the patchy quality of school and tertiary computer education.

John Ridge also said that the reputation Australian enterprise has developed for offshoring entry level IT roles is damaging the nation’s ability to attract more people into the profession.

According to Mr Ridge local organisations; “Can’t continue to take away entry level jobs,” by moving these tasks offshore, without there being significant implications in terms of the number of students signing up for ICT courses.

Already there has been a 40 per cent decrease in the number of ICT enrolments already over the last decade he said.

Mr Ridge also cited research conducted by the University of Wollongong which found that 42.3 per cent of people who signed up for ICT courses at university dropped out of those courses, with many reporting that they were not content with their subjects, their course content or the way it was taught. Mr Ridge said that employers had also told him that university IT courses often did not equip graduates with the skills that industry sought.

He was also concerned that demand had slumped to the extent that universities were taking an axe to the entry level barriers for some computing courses.

While Mr Ridge said industry and Government were not being aggressive enough about encouraging young people to consider a computing degree and career in ICT, he warned that the problem began in schools.

“There is a big problem in the way IT is taught in schools,” he said. Although he believed all schoolchildren should be equipped with a degree of IT literacy, he did not believe schools were the appropriate venue to prepare children for an ICT career.

Mr Ridge was particularly scathing about the quality of ICT teaching in NSW Government schools, saying that only 100-120 of IT teachers in the State’s 2,200 schools were “doing a good job” and were in any case hampered by a curriculum which was out of date.

It wasn’t just the educators that were out of touch: Mr Ridge said that industry associations had done a poor job in terms of providing collateral describing the range of ICT careers to school career advisors. He said that industry and Government had not been sufficiently aggressive in their attempts to encourage more people to consider careers in IT, but acknowledged that there was no quick fix for the problem.

While the Australian Computer Society has been working on initiatives to attempt to encourage more schoolchildren to consider careers in ICT, the ACS Foundation was established in 2001 with the intention of helping students find useful work experience which would make them more valuable for employers and hence eventually help them find permanent positions.

Since it was founded the organisation has secured more than $42.5 million worth of donations, which have allowed it to fund 3,850 Work Integrated Learning (WIL) scholarships – a third of them awarded to women according to Mr Ridge.

The structure of the ACSF allows organisations to make quarterly, tax free donations to the ACSF, which then awards scholarships to students, allowing them to work in industry and be paid a fortnightly tax-free stipend.

John Osorio, who received a WIL scholarship from Fast Track Communications said he received a $1,350 fortnightly payment from the ACSF which allowed him to work with the company while continuing to study at UTS for his Diploma in IT Professional Practice at the University of Technology, Sydney.  After graduating he was offered a full time role with the company.

Geoff Bednal, general manager at Fast Track Communications said that the ACS Foundation programme allowed it to find, and then work with students with an interest in communications, and equip them with the skills that they would need in the workplace, while still allowing students to complete their studies. He also said that the ACS Foundation was easy to work with, and its programmes were affordable.

Mr Ridge said that 96.6 per cent of all WIL scholarship recipients found work after completing their scholarship programme.

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