Will the IT&T Skills Task Force proposals to address the skills crisis be enough?
The Federal Government has been working closely with the IT&T Industry Skills Task Force to address the IT skills crisis in Australia. Twenty founding supporters from industry and government pledged $100,000 to support the Task Force aims, and others are proving themselves willing to support its work via a $5000 subscription.
Meanwhile Deloitte Touche is surveying the skills in demand in the industry to feed into a parallel second study which will developing a business plan for a new IT&T Education and Training "broker" whose role will be to foster links between industry and the education sector. The Government should do all it can to facilitate this work.
It is entirely right and proper that industry should play a major role in addressing the skills crisis, but governments have a more important role to play than they have been willing to acknowledge so far.
If the Federal Government is serious about helping Australia become a major force in the information economy, it must respond more positively to ACS calls to develop specific measures aimed at building the relevant skill sets of young Australians outside the University and TAFE sector. Short-term training schemes funded jointly by industry and government would be a start. Vastly increased funding to schools would also make a difference. Education minister David Kemp likes to make a lot of noise about the paucity of literacy and numeracy training in government schools. What he neglects to mention is that in the Australia of the next millennium, IT literacy will be as essential as reading, riting and rithmetic, and here the Government is still letting the nation down.
This scribe is fully behind ACS calls for the Government to target young people for IT training on the not unrealistic assumption many of them have a natural affinity to information technology. As ACS President Prins Ralston points out, there are also benefits to be gained from training long-term unemployed with basic computer user skills such as word processing, spreadsheets and graphics manipulation to fill the growing need for these capabilities across all industries.
But unbelievable as it may be in this day and age, not all young people are likely to be well equipped to handle information technology due to its integration in their education.
Ludicrous though it may seem, many State schools are still struggling to provide reasonable IT training to students. Many teachers are still uncomfortable with their own level of IT literacy, and most still rely to a larger extent than they should on parental funding to put computers into their schools.
The mantra of the Howard Government these days is Mutual Obligation. Surely rather than putting young Work for the Dole candidates to work weeding nature strips or helping the aged, it should be focusing on its obligations to remove these people from the unemployment queues by giving them the skills they need to work in the IT sector.
Sue Bushell is a Canberra-basedpolitical correspondent