IT Shortage May Extend to School
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The IT skills shortage many companies within the Internet industry are complaining of today may not go away quickly, according to a Victorian government report that indicates many students believe IT to be "boring."
The Victorian Government's report, Reality Bytes, has found that while the number of students enrolling in IT is up on figures from a decade ago, this number of students may not be enough to satisfy increasing demand for IT skills.
The report has investigated both the extent of student disinterest in IT as a career, and tried to pinpoint some reasons behind the trend. It identified various factors spanning issues such as parental influence, the media's influence, individual interest and perceived career benefits behind students' lack of interest in IT.
During the study, which consisted of focus groups and data gathered from 162 students' surveys, the report found that students tended to select subjects in high school, and in some cases tertiary education subjects, that do not add to their options or are seen as closing off particular options.
"This is one of the problems facing IT as a field of study: most students do not see IT subjects as enhancing their menu of choice in later years," the report stated. "There is a perception that there is no need to study IT unless they intend to work in IT later on the fact that technology skills will be important in almost any job is not yet part of their consciousness."
The low demand for IT education is extending beyond high school as well, with a recent study by the South Australian Institute for Economic Studies finding that unmet demand for IT places is a problem common to universities across the country (see story).
In exploring the influences students encounter in their career choice, the 'Reality Bytes' report attributed parents' possibly negative attitudes towards IT to a lack of knowledge or experience with computers, or a suspicion over the stability and job security within the industry.
Many parents are still suspicious of the online world, and these suspicions are fuelled by tabloid media promulgating an image of the Internet as a tool for copyright infringement, anarchy and all manner of sexual deviance," the report stated. "Recent demonstrations of the vulnerability of dot coms will also have given parents food for through before advocating technology-oriented career directions."
The report added that as IT is a newer industry, a student may not know any people involved in the industry and so may not have a wellspring of experience in family and friends to draw from when considering their career path.
In looking at the media's influence in students' career decisions, the report commented that there is a lack of IT role models, and where they do exist they tend to reinforce more negative stereotypes, such as a "nerd," or a "boring" subject. As the report continued: "interestingly, hackers were noted by one interviewed stake older as being appealing to young people. "Hackers are also respected a lot. They are seen as the Robin Hoods of the internet, attacking the big multinationals."
The educational stakeholders interviewed for the report, those potential employers in the IT industry who are affected by the skills base, were described in the report to have "a sense of bewilderment," that one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy and one that has relatively high salaries for skills, would find it difficult to fill jobs.
While not providing a direct or easy answer for this quandary, the report identified that students based their career move on what they would like to pursue. While these students evidently knew some of the benefits of a career in IT, such as job availability and good salaries, these factors came second to "liking IT" as a reason for exploring a career in the industry.
There were some promising