25 July 2006

IT scarcity pushes up pay in Australia

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The Australian (Fox News) is reporting that IBM is struggling to find 200 people to work on its $495 million Immigration Department contract, as are many companies that have technology contracts with the federal government.

Staffing pressures could affect IBM's bottom line, as it risks losing payments under its four-year, performance-based contract with Immigration if it does not deliver on time and on budget.

Recruiters and insiders said it was becoming almost impossible to recruit technology workers for a rush of projects in Canberra.

IBM and the department have denied there are any staffing problems.

Jane Bianchini, national manager of technology recruitment at headhunter Candle, said employers were struggling to find IT staff in Canberra.

"The market is taking off with some force, and skills on the ground are scarce."

Many employers are looking at different ways to attract staff, such as hiring in Sydney and Melbourne.

Some are running overseas campaigns, but most government projects require Australian citizens to work on their projects.

Ambition government technology manager Nardia Allison-Nichol said Immigration was not the only government agency with a big technology project.

Others included Customs, Employment and Workplace Relations, and Human Services.

"These projects have soaked up the talent pool," she said.

Ambition was recruiting people from Melbourne and Sydney for Canberra jobs.

"I am not surprised IBM is struggling," Ms Allison-Nichol said.

The demand from the rush of mission-critical projects is placing pressure on salaries.

"The candidate base is becoming more savvy and asking for higher rates," Ms Bianchini said.

IBM denied it was having trouble: "From the outset, IBM has been able to fully resource the project with the same team that we identified to DIMA during our negotiations for the contract," a spokeswoman said.

"The team includes specialists from IBM Canada and the US that we flagged for this project.

"We have 75 people on the team and are on track to meet our resource forecast for September.

"We are working closely with DIMA to forecast the medium-to-long-term requirements for what is possibly the world's largest service-oriented architecture project."

IBM is seeking staff who are experienced with portals, in testing and database administration, and in security.

It is advertising locally and overseas for a number of projects.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs said it had no recruitment problems and would "give no credence" to reports of staffing issues.

IBM had been able to supply the required people and was doing so effectively, she said.

The Systems for People deal is designed to give Immigration staff better access to the agency's array of legacy databases.

The project follows the Palmer and Comrie inquiries into the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau and the wrongful deportation of Vivian Alvarez.

Both reports concluded that the department's IT systems were not up to the job.

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