The Australian Government ICT Entry Level Programs consisting of an Apprenticeship, Cadetship and Graduate Program were initiated in 2007 to address the looming ICT skills shortage. Since their early beginnings, the programs have evolved and are key to attracting, nurturing and retaining ICT skills within the public service.

The Commonwealth formed the programs to recruit Year 12 school leavers with an interest in ICT and provide them with support while they studied and worked within an Australian government agency. To build on this success an ICT Cadetship Program, and then an ICT Graduate Program, were developed to recruit university students who were studying ICT.

The programs were initially run by a small team of five or six people but have now expanded significantly. Director of the Australian Government ICT Entry Level Programs, Michelle Norris, commenced in the role seven years ago. She said today the programs have been restructured to recognise and adapt to the needs of new skill sets.

The Australian Government Entry Level Programs have also introduced new initiatives to improve the way they operate, as well as deliver better outcomes for participants and the government agencies that place them.

"It's not enough for IT professionals to just have good technical skills, they need to work closely with the business areas and to be able to communicate well”, Ms Norris said.

"Twice a year we run learning and development training on topics such as communication and negotiation skills to prepare students for the public service. We also bring all of our participants together (over 200) to networking events to help them build cross-agency contacts which will assist them for the rest of their career."

When Ms Norris commenced in the role the Entry Level Program's retention rate was around 45 per cent and now it's up in the high 90s. This is due to a wide range of initiatives. Three key innovations to retain participants are targeted social media in marketing, ‘speed dating’ as a recruitment process and an ‘At Risk’ register for any participants who are struggling during their program.

Social media has enabled the programs to directly engage with many potential applicants who may not have attended face-to-face interviews at career expos, through a presence on the whirlpool online bulletin board and an active Facebook page.

“When the program first commenced the program wasn't doing enough to match up the applicants’ skills and interests with the skills gaps identified by agencies”, Ms Norris says.

"In ‘speed dating’ applicants get an opportunity to speak to every agency that is placing participants. Afterwards the applicants and agencies compile preference lists and we run a matching process to ensure the placements are a good fit.

"This has seen a significant boost in retention rates, ensuring the government makes the most of its investment in the ICT Entry Level Programs."

The ‘At Risk’ register helps identify and assist participants who are having difficulties, whether they're workplace issues, study issues or personal issues. In the past an agency would often find it difficult to resolve these issues, but Ms Norris says the new approach manages to resolve them in a mutually beneficial manner, often resulting in the participant completing their program successfully.

"Our career development and support officers play a pastoral care role. They meet with all new participants to ensure they are coping with their work and study requirements," she said.

"This nips many problems in the bud but the ‘At Risk’ register ensures those people get the extra help they need during times of difficulty.

“We’re proud of all the participants and of the achievements the programs have enabled.”