Industry experts are warning of a looming IT skills shortage in the near future if measures are not taken to attract graduates, women, and workers from non-IT backgrounds, to retain mature age workers, and to provide for more flexible working conditions.

Speaking at a roundtable event in Sydney yesterday representatives from NICTA, Hudson, Microsoft and CompTIA were united in backing changes the industry must make in their attitudes to recruiting IT staff.

Chris Mead, General Manager, Hudson, New South Wales, warned the Australian IT industry was ill-equipped to handle an aging population where he stated will see more people will leaving the workforce than entering it by 2008.

-If industries that are looking to base their future solely on generation Y, or the generation after that, then we need to reconsider … because it simply won’t work.”

-There aren’t enough incentives for people to have more children than they’re having now, and the [current] level of skilled and even semi-skilled immigration that Australia has won’t be enough to fix this problem”, Mead added.

To add to the industries woes, graduate numbers are continuing to drop dramatically. According to David Skellern, CEO of National ICT Australia numbers in IT courses in Australia have -seen a decline 3 to 1″.

-New South Wales University, which is one of our partner universities, had over 500 students come in in its intake in IT in 2000. It’s down to 160 this year. These numbers are dramatic.” Skellern said.

While many of the panellists agreed with Mead’s analysis that the industry will require a skills boost in graduates, women, and mature age workers, and will need to offer more flexible working conditions, a specific plan to tackle the problem is still elusive.

The Federal Government has acknowledged the current vulnerabilities in the local IT industry and has launched a joint government, industry and education initiative called the ICT Skills Foresighting Working Group. The Group is expected to provide report on how to improve the ICT skills available in Australia to Senator Helen Coonan by the end of the year.

Regional director of CompTIA, Dankia Bakalich, said the newly formed CompTIA Pro organisation will look to change perceptions in the industry by creating a community of professional IT workers. Bakalich also stated that the newly formed CompTIA Pro programme will work to retain IT works by helping members keep up to date with their skills and offering plans for career advancement.

CompTIA hopes to attract 10,000 members in three years, which will rival the membership of the Australian Computer Society, which has traditionally been the chief body for ICT skills accreditation in Australia.