Student interest in information technology education is waning at a time when “job opportunities are growing” in the field. This confluence of trends points to the obvious – This might be a very good time to pursue an education in information technology because supply is likely to fall short of demand for IT professionals in the next decade.
Interest in IT Education by the Numbers
The Australian Bureau of Statistics most recent long-term report on Education and Work demonstrates a significant move away from studying information technology. In 2001, 8.5% of students undertaking Bachelor degrees were studying IT; in 2015, that percentage had dropped to just 3.2%. This represents the largest decrease of interest in education related to any sector.
The loss of interest in information technology is in stark contrast to the net gain of students pursuing careers in the Health Sector, the fastest-growing sector, with participation up from 8.7% to 14% during the same 15-year period.
While job growth in the health fields continues to rise, demand for IT professionals remains strong too. In fact, demand is growing both in Australia and much of the rest of the world. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, forecasted a 12% growth in IT employment for the period 2014 to 2024. Europe expects a similar increase in demand for IT professionals.
Consider this prognostication by IT industry trade organisation CompTIA: “For 2016, CompTIA’s consensus forecast projects 4.9% worldwide IT industry growth.”
The Causes of Reduced Interest in IT Education
The lack of interest in a career in IT isn’t due to there being fewer young people interested in technology. On the contrary. The trend is arising despite a high percentage, 96% according to CompTIA, of people aged 13-24 being comfortable with technology and using it in their lives on a daily basis.
By contrast, only 19% of those aged 18-24 and 13% of those aged 13-17 indicated an interest in a career in information technology.
The gap between use of technology and an interest in an IT career has led to reduced enrollment in IT education. Additional causes are varied. They include:
- Only 38% of students aged 13-17 said information about IT careers had been given to them in school.
- The widespread belief that the education some schools offer doesn’t keep pace with the rapidly changing IT world, so spending time in school might actually mean falling behind the IT field. This deters those already in an IT career from going back to school for more education.
- The view that IT jobs in Australia are being outsourced overseas or given to imported labour, reducing opportunities for graduates.
- Boosting Supply to Meet the Demand for IT Professionals
While some IT positions are being outsourced or filled with non-Australians, the perception students have of this trend is greater than its reality. The truth is, there remains strong demand here for IT graduates.
Younger students must be better educated about the IT field and the growing opportunities within it. In addition, education that will prepare students for entry positions in information technology must remain strong. As noted by one of Melbourne’s private tutors – “Students with an interest in IT should be given access to tutoring when necessary to boost their skills and performance in science, math and related fields”.
Without this kind of comprehensive strategy, a higher percentage of good IT jobs for graduates in Australia will by necessity be outsourced or filled with imported labour.
Meeting the Demand for IT Professionals
The starting point of success is that place where preparation meets opportunity. With demand for those with IT training expected to remain strong while interest among students shrinks, an opportunity looms for those who invest in an information technology education.