Warning: This post is a bit of a rant. Enter Ethnically-Diverse Girl Tux on a her Soapbox!
It’s a well-known fact that there is a global digital skills shortage. This shortage affects all industries as they increasingly experience digital transformation. You can read more about this in Wiley’s Digital Skills Gap Index 2021.
In Australia most major universities have been recently offering fast-track courses in Cyber Security and Data Science in an effort to bridge this gap. I’ve been checking them out as I’m on a mission to keep my ICT skills current.
I’m working, handling home duties, and supervising two high-school students’ distance learning (this is because of the remote location we live in). I have done the math, and know I can manage an 8-10 hour study commitment per week. I also know from past – but recent – experience that 8-10 hours is generally the commitment required, per subject, for an Australian undergraduate semester-based university course. So I headed happily to Aussie university websites to research course offerings.
My personal criteria were:
- Postgraduate coursework in either Artificial Intelligence (or related area) or Cyber Security.
- Delivered entirely online.
- Allowing one subject to be studied at a time.
- 8-10 hour commitment per subject per week.
It wasn’t an easy as I thought. Most courses that met the first three criteria failed to meet the fourth. Many turned out to be fast-track courses in Data Science or Cyber Security with a minimum 20 – 24 hour commitment per week, albeit for a fewer number of weeks per year compared to traditional semester based courses.
A 20-24 hours per week study commitment is simply impossible for me. To put it in context, someone working full-time in the Australian ICT sector would be expected to commit to 38 – 40 work hours per week. A 20 – 24 hour commitment per week is effectively half-time – a significant commitment.
I tried to negotiate a lighter study load with two universities. This was unsuccessful. In fact one student advisor assured me that the fast-track post-graduate course under discussion had several students who were successfully working full-time, AND engaging with the coursework. I felt a bit of a dunce as I was clearly incapable of handling life the way my peers were able to.
Once I got off the phone though, I started to think. What demographics did these students par excellence fall into? Was their employer giving them time off in order to study? (My previous employer would frequently do so for employees wanting to upskill in the industry.) Were these students actively parenting? Or were they parenting as a couple? That is, they had partners handling parenting and home-duties so these students were freed up to study?
Note that in my hunting I did discover some courses with the 8-10 per subject per week commitment – but only for on-campus enrollments. I.e, they didn’t meet my personal criterion # 2 above.
Confession: I felt annoyed. Here were very reputable higher-education institutions, offering important ICT skills training, that were difficult for people like me to access. People who are juggling work, parenting and home-duties. People like me who are (almost inevitably) female, mid-career and looking to upskill or reskill.
And I get why. Statistically speaking, there aren’t many like me around. The Australian Computer Society’s Digital Pulse 2022 finds that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2021 census, women make up 31% of the Australian technology sector, compared to 46% of other professional services sectors. Therefore resourcing mid-career females in ICT who are juggling multiple things is simply not commercially rewarding since there are so few of us across a wide range of ICT fields.
But here’s the rub. We talk a lot about attracting women into the ICT sector. But if we truly want women in ICT, it can’t just stop at attracting young women into the industry. It also has to be about keeping women in ICT by encouraging ongoing skill development. This means resourcing women where they are at – whether in or out of work, whether as singles or not, whether parenting singly or jointly, whether relatively free of responsibility or caring for dependents, whether managing a business or as an employee, whether as new entrants into the industry or mid-career professionals or as those close to retirement. You could probably add to this list.
This isn’t just a bad news story though. I kept on hunting, and thankfully found two Australian universities who offer a course meeting all four of my criteria above. I’m applying to study next year, and hoping I will be accepted!
So, what do you think? I’ve written here about the Australian scene, because that’s what I’m familiar with. Please feel free to leave a comment about what you have experienced in this and other geographic locations.