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Tuesday, 17 August 2010 17:10

Canberra IT jobs face arid future


Hopes that the Canberra IT jobs market might reignite post election have been dashed by the capital's biggest IT recruitment agency which has warned it could be March before demand picks up if the election delivers a change of government.

Peoplebank ceo Peter Acheson said that the Canberra market would be 'patchy to the end of the year,' adding that 'realistically if there is a change of Government we will not see normal IT hiring or IT demand until March of next year.'

Peoplebank itself has undergone significant staff changes in its Canberra office, losing three of its senior account managers, including its ACT branch manager, Chris Scullin who has joined rival Greythorn as manager of its Canberra office. Mr Acheson denied that the loss of three executives  in short order was part of a plan to scale back the firm's Canberra operations, saying that instead the departures were coincidental and that two of the three positions had already been filled leaving the company with a team of 15 to service the ACT market.

Both Peoplebank and Greythorn today reported that they had experienced relatively strong April-June quarters in Canberra - although off a low base. Both however are now experiencing a quiet period in the lead up to the election.

Demand for contractors remains stalled and is not expected to improve for months, particularly in large Government departments.  In May the Intermedium Federal ICT Labour hire Index showed that in the previous 12 months the number of contractors hired by the Federal government had already slumped by between 20 and 25 per cent.

The Canberra contractor market went off the boil largely because of Gershon reforms which called for contractor numbers to be halved in Federal government agencies within two years. The looming election has further stalled demand.

'The election exacerbates the situation because everything goes into caretaker mode, so IT investment and hiring goes on hold,' said Mr Acheson. If the Gillard Government is re-elected it would take at least a couple of months before demand returned, he said, and far longer if there is a change of government.

Candle which runs a team of 12 to service the Canberra market is also experiencing sluggish demand. Executive general manager Linda Trevor said that she was not expecting a lot of activity for a few months after the election

Greythorn managing director Richard Fischer who has spent today in Canberra with new manager Chris Scullin and Greythorn's dozen Canberra based employees, said that there had been a noticeable slowdown in demand over the last fortnight in particular. 'We're uncertain as to the outlook - but it is more likely to be business as usual if the current Government is returned.

'But it is uncertain if there is a change of Government. You would expect a slowdown as they reorganise,' he said.

Ben Woods, managing director of Clicks IT and vice president of the IT Contractors and Recruitment Association, said that there was always a quiet period around elections, although there was still 'plenty of activity' in Canberra which was 'not as bad as people make out'. He did however acknowledge that some smaller recruitment organisations which specialised in IT recruitment in Canberra 'might have taken a hit' as a result of the slowdown.

When demand does finally return Peoplebank's Peter Acheson anticipated government departments would face a stiff time finding candidates as many IT professionals had either left the ACT after the Gershon review, or moved into fields other than IT. Richard Fischer agreed that there was already some evidence of pockets of skills shortages emerging in the ACT, and some movement in salaries as a result.

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