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The extraordinary rise of information technology (IT) and telecommunications as vital elements of modern business and private life over the past 20 years has fundamentally changed the nature of commerce and human interaction. Combined with the impact of the internet on business and society, IT and telecommunications (together, they are sometimes referred to as information and communication technology, or ICT) have grown into multibillion-dollar global industries.
The scope of opportunities in the sector has widened beyond the wildest dreams of anyone contemplating a career in the 1980s, or even the mid-1990s. In the late 1990s, the IT and telecommunications industries grew rapidly as investment poured in from hyper-zealous investors who overvalued the online industry, basing investment on unrealistic share prices and irrational exuberance. When the dotcom bubble finally burst, there followed a cooling-off period for a few years. But that is now firmly in the past, as companies all over the world continue to reap the benefits of computer automation, faster and better communication, and the increasing integration and convergence of their computing, entertainment and telecommunications systems. Online retail is growing at an amazing speed and opportunities to work in these sectors are likely to continue expanding for many years to come.
Australia's ICT market is the fourth-largest in the Asia Pacific region (behind China, Japan and South Korea) and the 11th-largest in the world, according to data from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade -- about 387,000 people were employed by the ICT industry as of 2008. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 43 percent of people employed in the industry worked in system design and related services, followed by information media and telecommunications at 26 percent and wholesale trade at 24 percent.
In recent years, a trend for outsourcing IT work to lower-income economies such as India has emerged, resulting in thousands of jobs in call centres and systems development, for example, being moved away from developed countries such as Australia. Yet, this movement is viewed by some as a positive shift because the jobs that remain here are generally of a higher calibre and focused on innovation.
As far as computer skills are concerned, Aussies are ahead of most of the rest of the world. According to the 2008 E-readiness Rankings by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the global research arm of The Economist, Australia came in at No. 4 out of 70 countries (jumping five spots from the 2007 rankings) for its e-readiness -- a "measure of the quality of a country's ICT infrastructure and the ability of its consumers, businesses and governments to use ICT to their benefit." Australia was also ranked No. 1 overall in the category of social and cultural environment, which includes aspects such as level of education and literacy, level of internet literacy, degree of entrepreneurship, technical skills of workforce, and degree of innovation.
Land of the giants
Every year, thousands of graduates aspire to work at one of the IT giants such as Microsoft, IBM, Apple, Google, Yahoo!7, Oracle, SAP and HP, as well as telecom heavyweights Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Primus. There are also tens of thousands of agencies, consultancies and companies (generally with less than 20 employees) that supply IT and telecommunication services to businesses in Australia, and around the world.
Don't forget non-IT companies, which commonly hire IT and telecommunications professionals to work in-house as systems developers, web site designers or general IT maintenance staff. In addition, there are the individual freelance consultants and IT developers who may work for a few weeks or months on a specific project before moving on to other things. The scope of opportunity for graduates in the ICT sector is fantastic, with the leading employers offering highly competitive salaries and packages.
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