CIO Profile: OU's David Matthewman
The latest quarterly figures from e-skills UK (the Sector Skills Council for our industry) show the number of advertised vacancies for IT staff rising for the sixth quarter in a row to reach 105,000.
At the same time the count of IT people in or out of work seeking a new job declined to a new low of 95,000.
That shortage of 10,000 people is against a backdrop of employment of IT staff across all sectors reaching a new record total of 1,093,000.
These numbers are supported in my own experience by much anecdotal or informal feedback from CIOs across sectors.
Even in today’s business climate, there is often a need to recruit IT people with specific high-demand skills (SAP, Oracle, Google analytics, SharePoint and several others), and this remains a challenge.
However for the CIO facing delays and bottlenecks caused by skills shortages, recruitment is not the only option: there is also the training or reskilling of existing personnel in the newer technologies required.
But sadly, according to the latest available statistics, when it comes to staff training, the UK IT sector is failing to sparkle.
Figures published by e-skills UK show that only 23 per cent of UK IT staff had received job-related education or training in the previous quarter, significantly lower than the 27 per cent reported for the UK workforce as a whole.
What makes these numbers especially disappointing is that today, learning new skills is easier and more cost-effective to organise and achieve than ever before.
That's because of one important but often-overlooked factor, the phenomenal development in recent years of online learning.
Development not simply in the number and variety of courses available, but in techniques and effectiveness.
No longer does online learning mean simply a few slides piped down the wire, as perhaps was the case five years ago.
Interaction is now a key feature, so that students can delve for more detail on specific areas of content, get instant help if stuck, question their instructor and discuss ideas and solutions with their fellow students, who might be anywhere in the UK or even around the world.
Such interaction can be more effective than face-to-face learning, given that a lot of bright IT people are happier to express views and questions online than to pipe up in a classroom.
Experience in my company shows that today's Facebook generation responds well to online learning opportunities.
Indeed we have seen huge expansion of take-up (of the order of 30 per cent plus per annum) in recent years, either by managers nominating their staff for courses or people applying on their own initiative and with their manager's support.
All of which goes to prove the sheer effectiveness of online learning.
Once you also factor in the sheer cost effectiveness of this approach, plus the fact that online learning can take place anywhere, any time using mobile devices, while travelling.
You can see why it is becoming more popular.
In our case we have invested significantly in providing not just technology courses but also online training in those managerial topics that any ambitious IT professional needs to know, such as team leadership, time management, budget control, effective communications and many others.
Virtual learning is being rapidly incorporated into our training programmes, business and technical, including those from our internal university.
Traditional classroom-based training continues to thrive within our university near Paris, but our university e-learning team in India has delivered over 100 e-learning and mobile learning modules specific to our company, interactive and designed with our collaborative style in mind.
These modules are now rated just as highly by our learners as classroom training and represent 33 per cent of the global curriculum mix.
As a result, on any given e-learning course we often find students in the UK, India and the US, for example, working together online, interactively and in real time despite time-zone differences.
You may feel that getting to grips with the expanding world of online learning is not a priority.
But, there is an easy way in, by working with a professional online education partner.
It is a route we use to supplement our internally generated e-learning curriculum, working with a company specialising in online training, assisting us in providing both industry-standard modules and courses tailored to our specific needs.
There are a number of case studies showing just how effective online learning has become for many employees including IT professionals.
The US Air Force, for example, reckons it has achieved outstanding results, while saving $39m (£24.7m) over the past five years, by moving to e-learning, with a major focus on network maintenance and security, and with 96,000 registered users in 350 locations worldwide.
Here in the UK we have seen a very significant shift among some of our leading business schools and the Open University, towards online learning.
That, plus experience within my own company and my knowledge of what our contemporaries and clients are doing, convinces me that online learning has a key part to play.
Christine Hodgson is Chairman of Capgemini UK