IT departments will face a shortage of people with business-focused IT skills over the next two years unless they take action, IT analyst firm Forrester warned this week.
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A rise in the number of older IT professionals retiring, a slowdown in the number of youngsters entering IT and changing skills needs threaten to leave employers with gaps in their workforce.
"All the evidence indicates that Europe faces a serious risk of shortage of IT skills. Companies need to take action now to support long-term IT competency needs," said a Forrester research paper.
Most employers plan to keep staff levels the same or allow them to fall slowly over the next two years, the research reveals. But at the same time they must contend with rising numbers of existing IT staff reaching retirement rates, and demands for new technical skill sets.
Forrester predicts a shift in demand away from programmers with traditional skills like Cobol, to web developers with C++ Java, PHP and Python skills.
Demand will rise for IT staff with expertise in ERP and business intelligence, middleware, database storage, and emerging areas like grid computing and RFID.
IT departments will also need people with high-end business skills to manage a growing number of outsourcing contracts. They will need knowledge of security, enterprise and technical architecture, plus methodologies like Itil, Cobit and advanced tools for administration, monitoring, security and deployment.
However, significant declines in the numbers of young people entering computer science will make it more difficult for IT departments and service companies to fill vacancies. In the UK, Germany and France student numbers fell between 5% and 20% between 2001 and 2005, with some institutions reporting falls as high as 40%.
At the same time, the educational establishment is only slowly adjusting to the needs of IT departments for a workforce with business and management as well as technical skills.
Businesses plan to respond to these shortages by accelerating their staff training, with both the number of companies training their staff, and the amount they spend expected to rise between 2005 and 2007. But employers will also need to ensure they retain key staff, and must be prepared to compete more aggressively for staff as the upcoming talent shortage takes hold, said Forrester.
Given that the education system may take time to catch up, employers should look seriously at whether they should train staff internally or through partnerships with local universities, it said.