Victoria ups the stakes in ICT investment

Victoria has notched up a win in its ongoing interstate rivalry with New South Wales and Queensland for ICT investment, following the announcement that Interactive will launch a $30 million project in the state.

The investment by Australian IT services company Interactive will create up to 300 IT jobs in Victoria during the next four years. The jobs are expected to be based at a new technology facility in Melbourne due for completion in September 2013.

A spokesperson for Interactive told Computerworld Australia that the ICT roles to be created at the facility would be related to managed services, technical delivery, technical architects, steady state operations team, pre-sales, solution designers and relationship managers.

Commenting on the significance of the investment, Australian Computer Society (ACS) president, Nick Tate, said the $30m facility would go a long way toward helping Victoria’s claim to be the nation’s leading ICT state.

“Victoria and New South Wales dominate the Australian Digital Economy representing about half of it, followed by Queensland,” Tate said.

Pointing to research carried out by the ACS on Australia’s interstate ICT rivalry, between July 2003 and December 2010, Victoria contributed 33 per cent to Australia’s ICT industry job growth. This is second only to NSW at 35 per cent industry job growth over the same period.

According to Interactive managing director, Chris Ride, said in a statement that Melbourne was the “most logical” place for the company to build its new facility.

Although Victoria’s growing ICT industry played a part in the new facility’s location, the decision was largely due to the company’s current head office in Melbourne, which will be located next door to the future development.

In addition, Interactive’s expansion in Melbourne was also due to the support of the Victorian government, which enabled the project to be fast-tracked.

Commenting further, Tate said that while the industry group welcomed the investment, Australia’s ongoing ICT skills shortage could mean that the new facility would draw away staff from their existing employers.

“There are circa 17,000 ICT roles on currently [and] the ACS predicts 35,000 #8212; at least #8212; ICT jobs will be in demand by 2014 as our digital economy expands,” he said. “Any job growth will create extra strain on an industry already experiencing significant skills shortages. ICT is critical to our economy and skills issues need national coordination.”

Tate also pointed to a worrying decline in ICT enrolments in Victorian universities in 2011, stating that more focus on ICT skills and education were needed to boost the nation’s digital economy, which is currently valued around $100 billion.

“The ACS calls for urgent focus on ICT policy in areas of education, skills classification and improved information management,” he said. “The ACS has recently called for the National Curriculum to include a clear focus on ICT.”

The comments follow a spate of new ICT courses, such as the expansion of American Power Conversion’s TAFE graduate program Encompass and Open Universities Australia’s corporate partnership programs with IT companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

However, according to chief executive, Matt Barrie, ICT enrolments are down because high school students perceive the subject to be “not cool”.

Coinciding with the announcement, the Victorian Government has launched a Digital Futures Fund worth $11 million for business-based ICT projects in Victoria. The tech fund is to encourage companies, researchers and end users to collaborate on finding ICT solutions.

A total of $4-5 million will be handed to successful projects under the first round, with preference given to "applications that reflect areas of strategic importance to Victoria", said Victorian technology minister, Gordon Rich-Phillips, in a statement.

The funding is part of the government’s Technology Plan for the Future, a long-term scheme which will see $85 million invested into ICT innovations.

Follow Diana Nguyen on Twitter: @diananguyen9

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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