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Shortage in NBN apartment cablers: recruiter

A recruitment firm for the National Broadband Network (NBN) said there is a shortage of cablers to connect apartments to the network.

Sean McCartan, general manager in NSW for Talent International, told Computerworld Australia the "major issue" with recruiting staff for connecting multi-dwelling units (MDUs) is that fibre-to-the-home connections for apartments is a relatively new process.

"[Thus] we tend to have a lot of difficulty finding those types of people. Other than the likes of Foxtel in Australia, there's very few companies that do that, so they're looking to up-skill people [with a] cabling background into new technology," he said.

"I believe in terms of the MDU specific roles, yes, [there is a shortage]."

McCartan said some roles with the NBN are taking slightly longer to fill at around four to six weeks, with the firm finding candidates from competitors.

"Some of those companies have canned projects or scaled back projects, which has freed up some people," said Richard Earl, managing director at Talent International.

"I guess it's common knowledge that certain providers have been losing customers and I guess when you lose customers, you lose revenue and you have to make adjustments."

McCartan said candidates are being sought who have experience in rolling out IPTV in Australia "because that would be the closest type of scale required for these roles".

Mike Quigley, CEO at NBN Co, has denied there are labour shortages with the NBN and said there are enough workers in the country to build the network.

NBN Co recently announced it would train and employ 80 extra fibre splicers to try and help recover a three-month delay.

Austin Blackburne, business director for recruitment firm Hays Construction in Victoria, warned it wouldn't be as easy as it sounds and said there was a shortage of fibre splicers, especially in Queensland, the north coast of NSW and NSW itself.

MDUs have been problematic for NBN Co. In October last year the company told a parliamentary hearing that it did not have a uniform strategy of connecting apartment buildings to the NBN and was still working it out.

NBN Co has now signed several contracts associated with connecting MDUs for project development services, which includes design and construction services.

Talent International was announced as a recruitment service supplier for telco and IT for the NBN in May 2011. Earl said employment demand for the NBN is now ramping up.

"Certainly [in] the last six months the demand has gone up and we think it might continue to do so," he said.

"From our point-of-view, in terms of the recruitment sector, I'd say it's doubled, even tripled in terms of demand. I think we're getting to the pointy end of the rollout."

457 visas

Data released on Sunday on 457 visas, a temporary working visa, revealed an overall increase of 19.2 per cent for the visa, compared to the same time last year.

The Federal Government recently announced a crackdown on the visas to ensure local job seekers do not miss out on jobs, with the Prime Minister Julia Gillard targeting the IT industry.

"It is just not acceptable that information technology jobs, the quintessential jobs of the future, the very opportunities being created by the digital economy, precisely where the big picture is for our kids, should be such a big area of imported skills," she said.

Earl defended the use of 457 visas in the IT industry and said while any system is flawed and there may be some rorting, he believes in most cases the visas are being used correctly.

"Unfortunately I think it's just become one of those political footballs and political parties are using things for point scoring and it's just a shame. But it's never too late to get things right," he said.

"I think [the IT industry] was just a soft target ... Sometimes you can get a bit of paranoia sometimes and people [say] 'Aussies are losing their jobs' and that sort of stuff, which is nonsense. All the evidence suggests that if you bring smart people into any country or economy, the whole place prospers."

The debate around the IT skills shortage -- and whether there is one -- has been circulating for some time.

Westpac's CIO Clive Whincup has claimed the bank looks to offshore its IT labour because there "simply aren't enough people" in Australia with the right skills for certain roles.

However, Andrew Cross, managing director of IT recruitment firm Ambition Technology, has said there is not necessarily an IT skills shortage, but more of a problem with employers narrowing their candidate requirements too much.

Earl said the IT skills shortage is evident at Talent International by some jobs taking a long time to fill, depending on the client.

"We're really talking about software development applications, development solutions architects, so the specific skills sets that might be Java or certain Microsoft products or Oracle, SAP, that type of thing," he said.

"Some [jobs] can be unfilled full stop. That, of course, will hinder the rollout or development of particular projects."

Earl believes part of the answer for the shortage is for analysis to be undertaken on where exactly the shortage is and a blueprint to be developed, which should be carried out in a bipartisan approach by the government.

Adam Redman, head, policy and external affairs, at the Australian Computer Society, said the organisation would support a blueprint analysis and said it has previously spoken to the government around the need for a policy.

"Let's get the uni enrolments up. Let's stop having knee-jerk reactions, because obviously if you're enrolled today in a uni course the landscape may be very different in five years' time, so too often we're making decisions today based on how things look today rather than how they might look in the future," Earl said.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU


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