Supplying demand: sorting the IT skills shortage

Four in five CIOs find it a challenge to recruit skilled IT professionals, according to the latest Professional Hiring Index from US agency Robert Half, while UK firm Hays named candidates with knowledge of Java, .NET and C++, as the most coveted in a recent survey.

Both agencies blame offshoring for the dearth of computer science graduates and say the latest trend to develop onshore means there is also a shortage of programming skills.

Worryingly, however, many IT chiefs are not tuned into the skills shortage, possibly because the problem is currently masked by a poor economy.

“CIOs should be bothered: the truth is, not a lot are,” reckons David Chan, former CIO and now director of Centre for Information Leadership at London’s City University.

Some attribute CIOs’ lack of interest to their non-people-people stereotype, but a bigger problem may be that IT chiefs are typically focused on a two-to-three year plan and their tenure is often for a similar period; recruitment and retention require a longer-term strategy.

These negatives are compounded by the fact that there is still no mandatory system of professional practice to support IT professionals once they embark on a career.

Compare this state of affairs with law, accountancy or engineering, and IT professionals’ in-role education starts to look quite sketchy.

The options for the CIO are either to build an attractive employment proposition or to badger the CFO for a bigger budget.

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“Those who can afford it pay top dollar,” says Chan, which means that banking and financial services still cream off the best talent.

This leaves other sectors relatively impoverished, especially the ones that compete for the same technical skills as banking such as the gaming industry.

Prêt-à-travailler
Efforts by the last government to plug IT skills shortages focused on producing work-ready graduates by encouraging industry and academia to work together.

The IT national skills academy, e-skills UK, designed the Information Technology Masters for Business (ITMB) degree together with industry partners.

“The ITMB is unique because the course content is created and monitored by IT employers”, confirms Colin Bannister, CTO of technical sales for of CA Technologies, one of the degree’s industry sponsors.

“As IT becomes more relevant to the business, we are constantly driving our IT team to become more professional in the way that it delivers services.”

Bob Clift, head of the ITMB programme at e-skills, confirms that the degree course is regularly retuned in order to meet changing business requirements.

He cites the recent addition of students learning how to roll out a business system project in a customer-friendly way and consistent with the business needs.