Skills drought places 2014 graduates in box seat

By on 25 November, 2014

Brett Bundock

A report by the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI) has indicated there will be an Australia-wide shortfall of 500 geospatial specialists with university degrees by 2017.

As such, Brett Bundock, managing director of the Esri Australia and Esri South Asia groups, has called on the nation’s leading universities to prioritise extending the reach of their geospatial programs. Mr Bundock’s appeal comes as thousands of students prepare to transition from secondary to tertiary studies over the coming months.

Mr Bundock said the rapid adoption of GIS technology by non-traditional markets, has stirred an unprecedented demand for skilled GIS professionals.

“GIS technology – once the sole domain of land management agencies, governments and our defence forces – is increasingly becoming commonplace inside commercial groups,” said Mr Bundock.

“In recent years, we have seen GIS technology adopted by Australia’s major insurers, banks, resources groups and retailers – to name just a few.

“Currently, Australia’s GIS technology sector is worth in excess of $2.1b and with the present rate of adoption, I anticipate we’ll see this figure double – if not triple – over the coming decade.

“The only threat I see to this growth – and it’s a legitimate threat – is a lack of local talent.

“As the country’s largest recruiter of GIS professionals, we employ more than 200 people and recruit for at least 50 new positions each year – and it’s becoming increasingly challenging to fill these positions.

“It’s a trend we’re also seeing across other government and commercial organisations.

“For example, in the past year alone, the demand for our managed services – where clients essentially outsource their GIS positions for us to fill – has grown by at least 200 per cent; reflecting they are facing similar challenges in finding appropriate in-house resources.”

Mr Bundock identifies the nation’s capital as most at-risk of being adversely affected by the skills drought.

“Recruitment for GIS professionals in Canberra is the most challenging – taking up to three months to fill a vacancy – largely due to the large volume of spatial roles on offer.

“Canberra is home to many of the country’s most prolific GIS technology users, including Australia’s Department of Defence – which has recently made provisions to grant more than 65,000 military and civilian personnel with access to Esri’s ArcGIS platform.”

The value of GIS technology has become more widely-known since its use in the recovery efforts following the 2011 Brisbane floods. More recently, its use in the search for missing Malaysian Airline’s flight MH370 and the tracking of Ebola outbreaks across the globe has further cemented its status as an emerging critical business system.

Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) President, Professor John Trinder – an Emeritus Professor at The University Of NSW (UNSW) – said the push to improve business efficiencies has largely been the driver for the commercial adoption of GIS technology globally.

Professor Trinder estimates there will be a mass shortage of geospatial professionals within this decade.

“While the geospatial sector is a rapidly growing industry, it’s dealing with an aging workforce – with only 20 per cent of professionals being in their twenties,” Professor Trinder said.

“Almost every Australian university offers geospatial disciplines; but most are challenged to attract enrolments.

“This is surprising, given the growing role of the technology within our society.

“Many people are familiar with locations defined by satellite navigation and popular mapping applications in general, so they have a certain level of skill in the use of geospatial data.

“However, applying the technology to manage geospatial data requires specialised skills which will be essential for the future management of location-based data.

“The challenge for Australian universities is to convey the extent of this opportunity to prospective students.”

In supporting the call for greater awareness of the opportunities available in the GIS sector, Professor Trinder said anyone who has an interest in mapping and spatial analysis should seriously consider becoming a geospatial professional.

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