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The wrong skills for the wrong century

Marie Johnson | May 11, 2015
Why the gap between the digital literacy of our millennials and other nations is increasing and what we can do about it.

To illustrate this point, the ACS estimates an additional 35,000 ICT professionals will be needed over the next three years alone. And where will these ICT professionals and skills come from? Increasingly not from within Australia's economic apparatus as shown by the following figures.

The Department of Industry and Science's statistics shows a decline of ICT graduates of 52 per cent between 2003 and 2010. And compounding this decline, computer science majors currently make upjust 2 per cent of domestic graduates each year.

All up, only 2.6 per cent of students commenced higher education studies in ICT in the year to February 2014.

Lack of narrative impacting choice
So what are the factors shaping a student's decision regarding technology as a career choice? Part of the answer was highlighted in a recent paper by the AIIA, which not surprisingly found that major influencers were parents and teachers.

More correctly, career decisions are influenced by a gap in the parents' understanding of what a career in technology could mean for their children.

This is not the parents' and teachers' fault - but a lack of a narrative of the role of technology across all sectors of the economy, not just the IT industry. There needs to be a coordinating and consultative effort across all sectors of the economy to tell this story.

The AIIA poll indicated that only 18 per cent of parents think their children would definitely be interested in a digital career.

Of deep concern, was the finding that only 46 per cent of parents believe that teaching IT/digital skills is more important that cooking/home economics.

At a time when the economy has an almost insatiable demand for digital skills - an appetite and demand that will only grow - the absence of a compelling and inspiring narrative is constricting the pipeline of student engagement and impacting perceptions of career choice.

In NSW, for example, there is one-third the number of high school students studying ICT in 2013 (12,347) compared with the year 2000 (29,580), and less than any time since 1991 (17,182).

The pull-through into university shows a further catastrophic decline in undergraduate applications and offers. In the year to February 2014, there were 5,795 offers to students to study ICT, compared to almost 50,000 offers to students to study society and culture. And of the precious few who commence tertiary technology studies, seventy percent do not complete or simply drop out.

The situation for girls is profoundly worse. Girls select out of technology very early on and before year 10 - and this entrenches stereotypes and locks out the opportunity for higher earnings throughout life.

 

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