Macau's quest to become Asia's recreation hub has hit a new snag. The city is facing a shortage of information technology (IT) professionals due to the increased demand created by the gaming and hotel sector boom. Executive director of NetCraft Information Technology (Macau) Johnny Au said the brain drain was a major challenge, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. Mr Au said many experienced computer specialists were being attracted to work in the gaming industry as dealers where they could earn significantly more money. 'As a dealer they might earn HK$20,000 a month and a good technician with 10 years' experience working in the private sector might earn HK$15,000,' he said. 'Then there is the issue of the casinos attracting people to work in their IT departments and on slot machines.' Heavy demand for IT skills means employers are paying good money to attract IT graduates. Mr Au said the smaller private operators had little chance when faced with the money on offer in the gaming industry and the job security and conditions offered by the government. He said senior managers and project managers were the most sought after skills and were very difficult to find. 'There are many complex projects that require a higher level of experience than what can be found,' he said. 'By the time all the casinos are open there are estimates that they will take 40 per cent of the IT workers in Macau, which does not leave many for the other sectors.' The biggest employer of IT workers in Macau is the government. Associate professor in computer studies programme at Macao Polytechnic Institute Andrew Siu Ka-meng said not long ago there was an oversupply of IT professionals in Macau. Dr Siu said previously many Macau graduates could not find work and were forced to look abroad. This changed with the boom in the gaming industry and he said there was now an inadequate training ground for graduates to build up their skills. 'Unlike the big companies overseas, the companies in Macau are not keen to put a great deal of resources into staff training,' he said. 'In facing the challenge of employment and profit, many software houses have set up their core development team in Zhuhai where they can hire good programmers with much lower salaries.' This has created an industry in Macau that is primarily focused on user requirements, installation and maintenance. Dr Siu said the limited training ground for junior staff meant it was difficult for Macau to supply its own IT managers, which was a long-term problem. 'The solution is that we need a training ground for turning the inexperienced IT workers into experienced ones,' he said. 'Usually fresh college graduates need two or more years of specific experience before becoming productive.' A spokesman for the Macau Productivity and Technology Transfer Centre, which offers IT training courses, said there was a large demand internationally for computer specialists. The non-profit organisation was set up by the government and the private sector to aid business growth in Macau. The spokesman said it was important for educational institutions to incorporate the knowledge required by the gaming industry into the normal degree process. 'They need to be learning about the systems used in the casinos as part of the study,' he said. Dr Siu said there was no doubt a sound knowledge of popular systems, including PeopleSoft which was used in the gaming industry, was a definite plus for IT workers in Macau. He said while it was important to incorporate market-required IT skills into courses, it was just as important not to compromise academic requirements. 'This is a challenge to the academic institutions,' he said. 'It is difficult to squeeze too many things into a four-year academic programme.' Mr Au said his company had been involved in several roundtable meetings with academic institutions to promote a better understanding of the requirements of the Macau IT industry. Initiatives include community study programmes where students study part-time while working and receive credit for their practical experience. 'The students get a salary and we get to look at the students and their ability before they graduate,' he said. 'We can build a relationship, assist with training and then, if the students are promising, they will be given a job.' All of the experts agree that while money talks when employing people, career path and the opportunity to broaden skills and knowledge are attractive to many employees. 'Each company has its own strategy, but there is no doubt employees need to know where they are going and what the potential is,' Mr Au said.