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Feature: Is the UK Facing Another IT Skills Shortage?


The problem of IT skills shortages appears to be a continuing theme year after year, and it doesn’t look like 2005 is going to be very different as the demand for IT skills both among employees and IT professionals increases. Tracy Lowles from Thomson NETg looks at the current state of the IT market and the need for fast, effective training for IT technical staff and end-users.

After a slow start the technology market is showing strong signs of recovery. Intellect’s European Information Technology Observatory (EITO) 2005 report reveals that the European ICT market will grow by 4% this year compared to 3.3% in 2004, and just 0.9% in 2003. The report also predicts that growth is expected to be faster in the UK than the rest of Europe and the US.

Demand for IT skills
Growth of the technology market is also supported by recent research carried out by e-Skills UK, which demonstrates that IT vacancies are on the rise. Organisations are beginning to look at implementing new technologies again and are re-initiating projects that had been put on hold.

This is all good news of course but a growth in the IT market also requires an increase in the number of skilled IT professionals available and a strong investment in IT training, both of which seem to be lacking in the UK. Across the industry there appears to be less IT professionals today than there have been in recent years, as we are seeing fewer university IT graduates and after the technology downturn a few years ago many people left the industry. The e-Skills research revealed that the number of IT professionals looking at moving to another organisation fell by 3 per cent in the last quarter of 2004. In addition it showed that organisations appear to be neglecting to raise their training investment with the number of IT professionals who have recently carried out training remaining static at 29%.

If this lack of investment in training continues and if more people aren’t encouraged to join the IT industry, there will be serious consequences. We could be just around the corner from another skills crisis, and some industries are in for a tougher ride than others.

The public and finance sectors
The demand for IT professionals in the public and finance sectors is particularly high and it is these industries that are likely to face the biggest problems in recruiting. The introduction of new regulations from the Financial Services Authority’s (FSA) such as Basel II, means that the financial industry is being forced to heavily invest in new technology and therefore needs skilled IT people urgently. And as the government works towards its goal of moving all services online, the need for IT staff in the public sector is growing fast. Recent statistics from the CWJobs quarterly IT skills index revealed that the number of permanent IT jobs in the public sector increased by 20% in the last quarter of 2004. Without the right skilled staff and adequate training many e-government projects may risk failure.

Skills most in demand
Across all industry sectors the demand for technology skills is similar to recent years, with a list including Windows XP, Windows 2003, Cisco, SAP, Oracle, SQL, Unix, C++, C#, .Net and J2EE. Security will also be a major focus with hackers and viruses on the rise. The demand for RFID experts is also increasing especially with the recent announcement from the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) that it is working on skills certification for this new technology.

In addition to technology skills, there is continuing demand for IT staff with strong business skills since they need to have a good understanding of business requirements to ensure the success of IT projects. Project management skills are also vital across all sectors and company sizes, and in particular in the public sector as government IT projects take off.

Organisations are going to come under increasing pressure to find skilled IT staff, which means their existing staff must therefore be highly competent and well equipped with the latest skills. This requires effective and flexible training programmes focusing on IT, project management and business skills. Without adequately trained staff, businesses risk falling behind important project deadlines and losing out to the competition. To avoid a skills crisis in the future, companies must take action now. Businesses also need to develop flexible staffing strategies such as combining the use of permanent, contract and offshore resources as required.

IT training for end-users
Of course, IT training isn’t just essential for IT professionals, but also for employees who are the end-users of technologies. As the workplace grows increasingly reliant on IT, the need to be IT literate is unavoidable for the vast majority of employees. IT skills are now as nearly as important as being literate when it comes to recruitment. According to a recent Forrester report, 90% of senior executives asked said that staff IT literacy is either very important or critical to their business.

Worryingly many employers are failing to provide adequate IT training. The Forrester report also revealed that one third of organisations need to address the skills development of their employees.

Implementing new technologies is futile if employees are not educated on how to use them. Effective IT training can help raise productivity and efficiency as employees are able to increase the speed at which they work. It also helps reduce the pressure on IT helpdesks so that IT staff can spend on more serious IT problems rather than solving minor queries. Increased staff efficiency and productivity through training equates to better customer satisfaction and ultimately increased profits.

To remain competitive both locally and globally, UK organisations must ensure both their IT staff and their end-user employees have easy access to learning on demand in IT skills. Those that do will undoubtedly benefit from increased individual and business performance, and will avoid the negative consequences of the skills crisis that is currently threatening the UK.


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