Skills Shortage Persists as Layoffs Increase

Meanwhile, while their local counterparts are fighting tooth and nail to hang on to their jobs.

The IT industry has not escaped the retrenchments affecting other sectors, as most companies tighten their belts and lay off staff.

Thousands employed in Australia’s technology sector have lost their jobs in the past 12 months. Last week, SAP Australia said it slashed almost 40 local jobs in line with the demands of its parent company.

Other major players including Telstra, Hewlett-Packard and EDS, have also reduced their workforce.

Technology sector organisations warn that any attempt to reduce the number of skilled migrants could be detrimental to the country’s future, but pressure is mounting on the Government to tighten its migration program because of the global financial crisis.

Leading demographer Peter McDonald has called on the Government to be conscious of the likely contribution of migrants over the next 20 years as millions of baby boomers retire.

In mid-December, the Rudd Government revised the migration program for the second half of 2008-09 so employer-sponsored skilled migrants, or those with critically needed skills, would be prioritised for permanent visas.

The changes, applying from January 1, would ensure the migration program was more responsive to the needs of the economy, Minister for Immigration Chris Evans said.

Skills such as SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel, network security and Java continued to be sought after, according to the department.

Precise statistics for technology professionals on permanent residency visas for the 12 months ending January 31 are not available from the department.

According to early findings by the Australian Computer Society, the number of applications for technology skills assessment increased by about 20 per cent in January-February this year, compared with the same period last year.

The ACS is approved by the Department of Immigration to assess the skills of IT workers prior to lodging a migration application.

ACS chief executive Kim Denham said it was too early to call a long-term trend, but the figures indicated there was still some optimism on job opportunities in the local technology sector.

She said demand for ICT professionals was in specific areas, including -banking and commerce, the minerals processing and mining sectors, agriculture, primary, secondary and tertiary education, business, the environmental and energy sectors, manufacturing and media and entertainment.

-Career opportunities in these areas range from purely technical roles through to those requiring a strong business development focus, Ms Denham said.

The gap in technology sector unemployment was predicted to reach an estimated 25,000 jobs by 2020 and it was vital that migration numbers be maintained – not reduced – because of the skills shortage.

-Since 2004 there has been consistent and strong growth in ICT employment, with more than 280,000 technical and professional ICT workers now employed across all Australian industries, making a vital contribution to Australia.

-Results indicate that in order to ease the growing skills gap and maintain economic prosperity, we must maintain 2007-08 inward and outward migration levels, increase local graduate numbers by 12.5 per cent per annum from 2007 figures and reduce the brain drain of ICT professional migrating for overseas employment, Ms Denham said.

The ACS’s views were echoed by the Information Technology Contract and Recruitment Association (ITCRA).

-We support the view that there is indeed a skills crisis in the ICT industry in Australia and believe that it does not make sense to put an end to a skilled migration program when there are occupational needs evident in the workplace, ITCRA chief executive Danika Bakalich said.

-We would advise the Government to rethink its plan to cut the number of overseas skilled workers coming into Australia.

-It cannot afford to apply a knee-jerk reaction on this matter and it is important that supply and demand of labour is met with little constraint from government.

-This will become important when the economy does return. We don’t want legacy policies that remove options for the industry, Ms Bakalich said.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the Government would continue to adjust immigration targets according to the economic circumstances.

-The overwhelming message from business and industry is that we need to maintain a skilled migration program but one that is more targeted, he said.

-The list of skills in critical shortage focuses on medical and key IT professionals, engineers and construction trades. The occupations on the critical skills list are the ones most frequently sought by employers through sponsorship.

As a result of the changes, the skilled migration program may come in below the planned level of 133,500. The Government would set the 2009-10 migration program -in the context of framing next year’s budget and a smaller program had been foreshadowed, he said.

The Government would ensure that overseas workers were not employed ahead of local workers or used to undermine Australian wages and

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