The Australian Computer Society (ACS) called on the Australian federal government yesterday to protect local ICT jobs against offshoring when it released a policy framework that includes re-skilling displaced workers.
Responding to a growing trend by Australian organisations to utilise offshore labour at cheaper rates, ACS president Edward Mandla warned that short-term thinking and business fads threaten thousands of local ICT jobs.
The ACS estimates that 11,000 jobs will go offshore by the year 2008.
"As an industry, we've often been perceived as trend junkies — preoccupied by the latest technology fad or management trend. Innovation and re-invention are the lifeblood of our industry — but we must never lose sight of the human side of the business and the human cost behind some of our decisions," he says.
"In the next five years thousands of jobs will be lost overseas. As an industry and as a community, we can't afford to take these sorts of decisions lightly.
"We're not asking for protectionism, just prudence. We're calling on industry and government to wake up and pay attention to this issue. We need to weigh up the real price of our decisions — not just today, but in 10 years time."
The ACS resolved to work closely with government to develop offshoring guidelines for use by commonwealth agencies including a cost-benefit checklist that considers the social impact of jobs going offshore and best-practice guidelines for Australian companies.
The ACS also wants the government to improve access to existing schemes to re-skill and re-train workers displaced by offshoring and to provide assistance that allows them to gain employment.
"There is also a role for the ACS to certify recruitment companies, so that we can make sure our ICT workers are being looked after," Mandla says.
The ACS is also seeking government support to develop more onshoring opportunities and establish an agency dedicated to marketing Australia's ICT capabilities.
Responding to the ACS policy framework, a spokesperson for the IT Minister Daryl Williams raised concerns about the accuracy of the methodology used to calculate the ACS figure of 11,000 jobs going offshore by 2008.
"It is based on a direct conversion of trade in services figures to job numbers. This is not an accurate representation of actual jobs offshored," the spokesperson says.
"When taken in isolation, the figure can also be misleading because it does not reflect the other side of the equation — the number of jobs that come onshore to Australia." The spokesperson also points out that the ACS research shows that Australia wins more jobs than it loses.
"Also the study was done before the release of recent figures showing that ICT services exports continue to grow rapidly and increased by 30 per cent in the three tough years for the ICT industry between 2000-01 and 2002-03," she says.
"In relation to concerns about offshoring to India, it is important to note that Australia enjoyed a services trade surplus with India in 2003 of $244 million. That is, India 'offshores' more services to Australia than we do to India."
It's not just offshoring challenging Australia's IT economy but declining birth rates which is driving the need to retain the country's aging workforce.
Research released this week from the Swinburne University's Centre for Business, Work and Aging (CBWA) shows a remarkably high attrition rate for IT workers over 45. This is likely to be of real concern over the next decade as the need to retain the skills of an aging workforce becomes more critical.
Currently, only 5% of IT workers are aged between 55 and 64. CBWA director of research Libby Brooke says without some radical policy shifts Australia is poorly positioned to address this problem. Between 1999 and 2001 one in seven IT workers aged 45 to 64 were unemployed because of retrenchment or redundancy compared to one in 14 IT workers aged 18 to 44.