Women make up just 20 per cent of the ICT workforce, compared to 45 per cent in all occupations, according to a study by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA).
This low number of women in the industry is hampering the supply of skills to the industry, the ICT Workforce Study 2013 found.
"We need role models and we also need to support employers, particularly in the SME sector, to examine the barriers to entry. Kids make career decisions in high school and we think this is a critical area," Adam Redman, head, policy and external affairs, told CIO.
The small number of mature age workers in the ICT industry is also hindering the supply of jobs, with 67.8 per cent of workers aged 25 to 44, compared to 45.5 per cent for all other occupations, according to the report.
It forecast the ICT workforce will increase by 7.1 per cent (33,200 workers) between 2012 and 2017.
"Initiatives to attract and retain these groups of workers are important if we are to meet the demand for skilled ICT workers," the study stated.
The report was developed following consultation with the ICT industry and education stakeholders.
It said the number of 457 visas being used in the industry jumped 74 per cent from 2009-10 to 2011-12 to 9271 visas granted. In 2011-12, 13.5 per cent of 457 visas were granted to ICT professionals.
The visas have come into the spotlight recently with the federal government announcing a crackdown on the use of the visas in February this year due to rorting, with the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard targeting the IT industry as the largest sector that employs overseas workers.
A 457 visa is a temporary business (long stay) subclass visa that allows businesses to sponsor a skilled worker to fill a job vacancy which cannot be filled with local workers. The visa is valid for up to four years, with secondary visas able to be given to an applicant's family members as well.
"It is likely that temporary and permanent skilled migration will continue to play a significant role in meeting demand for ICT professionals in coming years." the report said.
"In this context, efforts to improve the work readiness and ongoing employment prospects of domestic ICT workers are particularly important."
Redman said the ASC believes there is a role for 457 visas in the industry, but only as a short-term solution.
"We do not support abuse of 457s in any sector and we would name and shame if we were aware of abuse. Without tackling the issues in the report, the Australian ICT reliance on 457 will increase," he said.
The report has focused on digital education at the school level, pushing for more inclusion of digital subjects at schools as a core component of education. This should focus on technology and computer science subjects, the AWPA recommended.
The AWPA has made several other recommendations. They include "targeted career promotion products" to help change the negative perceptions around the ICT industry, such as IT jobs being boring, repetitive and isolating; and a more strategic approach for ICT graduates and training, with employers finding graduates don't possess the skills required to contribute in the workplace.
The AWPA also recommended an intensive skills conversion program targeted towards graduates to increase the number of workers in the industry.
Finally, it is supporting the Australian Computer Society's professional development program, which has been designed to build capability in the ICT workforce.
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