A new NSW-backed program to send Australian university graduates to India has drawn fire from outspoken members of the state's technology sector.
IT professionals have long protested that the growing practice of off-shoring high-tech projects to developing countries harms local career chances. Now the NSW government has given its backing to a program to send young workers to the sub-continent to gain experience and improve their employability.
Five information and communication technology (ICT) students and recent graduates from the University of NSW and Sydney University will spend eight weeks living and working on campus at Infosys, India's largest technology services vendor, from January next year.
Headquartered in Bangalore, and listed in the US, Infosys is an IT outsourcing and consultancy vendor employing 153,000 people worldwide, including 2400 in Australia.
The intern scheme, which will be fully funded by the vendor, has received public support from NSW premier Barry O'Farrell, who travelled to India this week to spruik the state's technology strengths.
In a statement, O'Farrell said the program would give students the chance to live, travel and work on cutting-edge technology projects.
It comes on the heels of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Australia in the Asian Century policy, aimed at boosting Asian literacy among Australian students and taking advantage of the Asian boom.
But a supporter of the Australian industry, founder of Sydney-based start-up Bigcommerce, Mitchell Harper, described the NSW government's backing of the program as a "kick in the teeth" for local players.
Rather than attempting to foster opportunities for ICT graduates in Asia, governments at both levels should be investing in graduate skills development programs within Australia, Harper said.
'The big thing that I don't really agree with is sending [interns] off-shore — there are so many entrepreneurs here trying hard to build really strong, private IT companies,” Harper said.
Bigcommerce employs interns among its 200 staff and, alongside other local players, was keen to work with the government to help develop and retain local ICT skills, Harper said.
“[Interns] get amazing hands-on experience and they get to stay here in Australia — they don't have to go to the US or India.”
Spending time with local start-ups would give rookies greater breadth of experience than placement with an established "monolith" like Infosys, Harper claimed.
“They won't get the chance to do anything that has a real impact — [they] will be stuck working alongside some engineer. Infosys as a company is not the sort of company a graduate would dream of going to work for.”
Country manager for Infosys Australia and New Zealand Jackie Korhonen said interns would work alongside mentors in the vendor's research and development laboratories. They would also have the chance to take up employment with the company.
“It's part of Infosys being a global organisation,” Korhonen said. “There's cutting-edge stuff happening over there … it's a chance to give Australians global experience.”
Harper said many ICT graduates were already heading overseas after graduation and the government needed to do more to encourage them to pursue careers locally and build the local industry.
“I think the government really needs to put someone in charge of these programs and budgets who's built a company in Australia,” he said.
“They need to do it soon to stop the brain drain of young talent heading off-shore.”
Another Australian IT entrepreneur, Freelancer.com chief executive Matt Barrie, said the government needed to look at ways to boost the country's scanty output of high-tech graduates to counter the shortage in the local market.
Freelancer.com counts several interns and new graduates among its staff of 50, Barrie said, and along with other local players including Atlassian, was looking to hire more.
“Australia as a country, the only way we can sustain our economy and way of life is to make a dedicated effort to boost technology,” he said.
“It's the only way a country of 23 million people can punch above its weight.”
A spokesman for the Australian Computer Society (ACS) said ICT was a global industry and gaining an international perspective through internship abroad would help improve graduates' employment prospects at home. However, he said the shortfall of domestic students pursuing Australian tertiary ICT courses was still of concern.
"(That's) something that risks the development of the nation's digital economy".
Commenting on the Infosys scheme, a spokeswoman for Senator Chris Evans, the Federal Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, said study in Asia was good for students and business.
“There is no better way to become Asia literate than to experience Asia directly,” she said.