Alarm is mounting over the low number of students enrolling in tertiary ICT education and its potential impact on the industry over the next decade.
The National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications (NACCQ) has joined forces with Women in Technology (WIT) to promote the benefits of choosing a career in the ICT industry.
Garry Roberton, chair-person of NACCQ and education manager of the School of IT at the Waikato Institute of Technology, says the number of ICT students has dropped dramatically recently.
In the last four years ICT enrolments across the ITP (Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics) sector have declined 30%, he says. That translates into 1,000 fewer students, down from 3,500 in 2003 to 2,500 in 2006.
In comparison, tertiary ICT enrolments at Otago, Auckland, Canterbury and Victoria Universities in 2006 were about half what they were in 2002, according to John Hine, head of Victoria University’s computer science department.
At Wintec, only 20% of students enrolled in ICT-related programmes are women.
“And that is probably a reasonable representation of what is happening nationally in the ITP sector,” Roberton says.
“We want to see more women taking up a career in ICT, because there are huge opportunities out there for them.”
He points to organisations like IBM, Microsoft and Telecom, which all have women in senior positions.
“There is no reason why young women shouldn’t aspire to take up a career in the industry,” he says.
Cheryl Horo, general manager of WIT, says that her organisation will promote ICT as a career choice by visiting schools, taking women working in different IT roles out to the schools to talk about their profession.
“WIT also has good relationships with the tertiary institutes, and we have relationships with the industry [through] networking,” she says. “There is a lot we can do by taking advantage of people’s networks.”
The ICT skills shortage is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, Roberton says.
“There is a growing gap between tertiary ICT enrolments and the number of IT vacancies. It is a national and international problem,” he says.
He refers to the Department of Labour’s latest Job Vacancy Monitor report, which states that the number of IT vacancies reached 1,095 in June. That is the third-highest level since January 2003.
In June, there were 10% more vacancies than in the same month last year. The national growth in IT vacancies has slowed from a peak of over 100% in February 2005, according to the report.
“Given the pivotal role of IT across all industries and the continual growth of the ICT sector into the foreseeable future, there is a huge potential for increasing the number of enrolments into the ITP sector,” he says.
There are a number of initiatives going on in response to the declining ICT enrolments, says Roberton. The partnership with WIT is one of them, as well as the Ministry of Education’s initiative to design an ICT curriculum framework for Years 11–13.
“But we really can’t expect any outcome of [that framework] before about 2011,” he says.
The ICT industry has got to do more to promote the industry to potential employees, he says, and the image of IT workers as “geeks” has to change.
“The top skills employers in the industry are [looking for] are problem-solving, communication skills and being a team player. The image of [programmers] locked away somewhere, working on their own, is long gone.
“ICT should be marketed as a career that contributes to all aspects of our society,” he says.