Experimental approach to app development... Westpac CIO Clive Whincup. Photo: LT
Young Australians should consider a career in information technology and their parents should not be put off by recent IT staff layoffs at major institutions, as there is a long term future for technologists in the country.
That is the message Clive Whincup, chief information officer, Westpac, has for high school students and undergraduates, despite the bank being in the spotlight for slashing and offshoring more than a hundred IT jobs in recent months.
Speaking at an event organised by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) this week, Whincup said it was paradoxical that in an age of ubiquitous technology and digitised economies, fewer young Australians were choosing an ICT career.
"I think if we are to ensure our technology needs are met, we need to encourage people to take on a technology career."
He said the industry needed to work together to encourage more undergraduate participation and to change perception in the younger generation and their parents that by offshoring some capabilities it was somehow painting a bleak picture for its future.
"That's the issue we've got to tackle, because the workforce is changing shape. Periodically that happens. The workforce is not diminishing in number, and we don't expect it to diminish in number. We expect a shift in the skill sets within the workforce.
"In absolute terms we expect the overall technology demand in Australia to be increasing over the foreseeable future. Whilst the shape and types of skills, roles and activities might change, the jobs are definitely going to be there," he told IT Pro.
Referring to Westpac's recent layoffs, he said: "What we're doing is about restructuring the workforce so going forward we will be in a better position and we will continue to employ large numbers of technologists [...] in the foreseeable future.
"We need to tap into a better resource base than we can grow domestically, in a five to ten year timeframe, to avoid the phenomenon of a gradually aging workforce."
He said Australia would never be totally self-sufficient in providing talent for its technology needs, but it needed to do more to future-proof supply by attracting more students, especially women, to ICT.
Christine Van Toorn, lecturer and director of sponsorship programs at the University of NSW, asked Whincup how universities could better work with industry to foster ICT.
"Collaborate more on the content of courses," Whincup said.
"All too often it's quite a shocking experience for our graduates to see there are everyday [technology] features they've never encountered in their academic experience. We need to prepare students for the kinds of things they will be asked to do with technology when they enter the workforce."
The disconnection between university computer engineering teachings and the realities of business was highlighted by Big Commerce founder Mitchell Harper late last year.
Whincup said universities should invite recent graduates back to share their experience and help tailor course content to the realities of business.
"Those are the people who know what the issues are. Let's get recent graduates involved in that conversation."
But he told IT Pro he couldn't guarantee Westpac would always hire locally grown talent first.
"It's very very hard to guarantee but, absolutely, my desire is to be able to recruit continuously from the local market. It's absolutely vital that we retain within the organisation the higher skill levels that we need to effectively govern the large number of suppliers we have.
He recently said all mobile application development was to be done in-house by full-time staff. Last week Westpac-owned St George reneged on a plan to outsource 200 IT jobs to IBM.
Whincup, who as an ambassador for National ICT Careers Week 2012 spends time addressing university students, said Westpac had a "vibrant" graduate program with a healthy intake every year.
"We're absolutely dedicated to providing long term career prospects for large numbers of people."
He said many technology vendors already had programs that promoted ICT as a career, but more needed to be done.
"It shouldn't be too hard for us to grow the technology profession in Australia."
In an apparent nod to recent reports by Fairfax on the exodus of young technology entrepreneurs to the US, he advised young people to be bold, flexible, and to look for opportunities at home.
"Exercise your imagination and your energy into actually producing something here, locally."