As promised I am going to reveal the findings of a survey created by a reader of this blog with the intention of discovering whether there is a UK IT skills shortage or not.
The alleged UK skills shortage is often cited by businesses when they bring workers to the UK from locations offshore such as India. But at the same time there are thousands of UK IT professionals out of work.
The survey, which got 170 respondents, has revealed a great deal about the feelings of UK IT professionals and has provided a balanced view.
Because businesses cite the skills shortage as a reason to use offshore workers it is interesting to see what kind of skills the offshore staff in the UK actually have.
The survey asked this question: Do the onshored/offshore staff used by your organisation provide rare specialist skills, or do they mainly provide entry-level "cannon fodder" skills?
1 - UK IT workers being replaced by cheaper less skilled workers:
- "There is no IT skills shortage in the UK, however many employers do not want to pay for these skills, they prefer instead to get cheaper less skilled resources from overseas.
- "I see no shortage of computing skills among the UK workforce. Rather, skilled British workers are being made redundant so that their tasks can be inadequately performed by unskilled workers (usually based overseas) at a fraction of both the cost and quality. This almost invariably results in a net increase in total cost for the business procuring the work."
- "In my area (Finance IT) there is no shortage of capable UK residents or EU workers to do the job. But for the past 10+ years, companies have been replacing UK workers with offshore or onshored Indian workers who lack the same skills and experience but, crucially, are 20-50% cheaper in gross terms."
- Regarding the quality of offshore staff - clearly if the main driver for offshoring is lower costs then it's no surprise that most are graduates with little prior industry experience. In my experience, they pick up technical skills pretty quickly but are much slower in learning how to be an IT professional. There is not the critical mass of more experienced colleagues showing them how to do the job."
-" I worked for major IT company for 20 years, for the last 5 there has been an acceleration in moving jobs overseas (to wherever is cheapest). "Mature" staff like myself were offered early retirement or loss of nearly half our pensions. 99% of jobs I could find internally (over a year long period of looking) were in China/India/Singapore.
Effectively we had a highly skilled UK workforce that is quickly being replaced with cheaper trainees (in this country) who are "let go" after they develop any costly skills while the Far East takes on the jobs that would otherwise pay well.
If I am still working in IT in a few years it will be as a self employed consultant / contractor. There should be no shortage of this sort of job as the third world people (while some are very skilled) are so overworked they quickly move on and use unskilled labour."
2 - UK IT professionals should up-skill and move up the food chain
- "In my experience, we have seen people leaving even during the recession. Recruiting good quality staff to replace them has been exceptionally difficult, with few good CVs and the more promising candidates receiving better offers from elsewhere. All of this seems to be evidence for a skills shortage."
-"As a Java/J2EE contractor (Senior Dev/Tech Lead level) in London I can only speak for myself but the IT industry appears very buoyant! Where I do see jobs going is mostly in the easily commoditised area like HelpDesk and Desktop Support. I have seen dev jobs go but there seems to be a natural pendulum of back of forth as work gets outsourced and then brought in again as they realise that it is not a silver bullet.
I have interviewed about 20 people in the last 15 months on behalf of my current client and the candidate do seem to be grouped into two categories (and this is after having run the gauntlet of recruitment and HR); the first group have a passion for technology and seem genuinely interested in IT while the second regard it as something that pays the bills. The first group read/write blogs, try out new languages and technologies, commit code to open source and so on. The second passively wait to be spoon-fed by their employers and then complain about not getting any training. Or if they do go off an do some training, they regard their work as done rather than the fact that they have got a new bike and have got passed the point where they need training wheels. Passion about IT is one of the most important factors and yet it is not that common."
-"Its impossible to predict the future, but I would not like to think I'll be doing the exact same job I am doing now in 5 years (Network security & ICT support), I'll do my best to keep my skills up to date. But times do change and different jobs are created the entire job, while old ones die out."
-"I think the skills shortage question could be misleading depending on the type of company.
Personally, I've been working mostly for relatively small IT start-ups (20-40 staff) for the last 5 years and we've always had problems attracting competent senior developers of any nationality. In both my current and previous role it has been incredibly rare to get British applicants for permanent senior developer positions and as such we have a very multicultural team. In a couple of cases we've had to take on people with poor English but good technical skills just to meet staffing needs, with the hope that they pick up the language as they go (sometimes it works out well, sometimes not)."
In terms of the quality of out-sourced developers it can vary a lot. My experience of working with out-sourced companies, particularly Indian firms, isn't that the developers are necessarily less capable than UK/European-devs but more that the culture of the outsourcing firms doesn't encourage any development of skills or independent problem solving outside a tightly-defined job spec. This is very obvious when interviewing candidates coming from such firms, typically their CVs look fantastic on paper - lots of experience on large projects in a wide range of technologies, but when presented with complex problems to solve they struggle."