The number of IT professionals looking for work has reached unprecedented levels over the past couple of years. The government ploughed an extra £5bn into jobcentres during the recession and partnered with specialist recruitment organisations to help it take the strain and become more reflective of the UK workforce.
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But IT professionals are often frustrated by the service, known as Jobcentre Plus. Although jobcentres recognise that specialist jobseekers, such as IT professionals, need tailored support, it still insists they broaden their job searches away from IT after three months.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which controls the jobcentre service, says the longer jobseekers are out of work the harder it is for them to get a job. "IT workers will have a range of transferable skills, which they could use in another job, whilst continuing to look for opportunities in the IT sector," it says.
As a result, and because of a lack of understanding of the IT profession within the jobcentre system, many workers are pressured to apply for inappropriate roles.
One software analyst who contacted Computer Weekly says he was told he must be prepared to take a job at the minimum wage if necessary. He was also told to apply for an Oracle DBA position, even though his skills and experience were inappropriate for the role. Jobcentre staff made it clear that if he failed to apply he could lose his benefits.
"This is very frustrating, but they are not really set up to deal with specialists. There are so many different facets of IT. It is like the medical profession," he says.
A mainframe specialist who was unemployed for six months during the recession says he felt pressured to apply for inappropriate roles after three months. "I actually found the jobcentre really helpful, but they were not geared towards providing IT jobs," he says.
Richard Swann, head of IT at the Institute of Directors, says IT jobs can be so specialist that it is impossible for IT professionals to broaden their job searches without completely changing profession. "One of the problems is that a lot of people do not understand IT, and unless you have worked in IT you cannot understand it," he says.
If these workers leave their specialisms, when demand picks up businesses might find it difficult to fill posts and could be forced to outsource roles, which could include some going offshore, he says.
Demand is returning
According to the latest SSL/Computer Weekly research, there are signs that demand for IT staff is returning. The quarterly IT jobs market survey found that the number of IT job vacancies increased 1.8% in the final quarter of last year. The previous quarter saw a 1% increase.
During the recession the jobcentre service has had to adapt to support groups such as IT professionals. The DWP says, "We would always advise people to look at our own jobs database - we get 10,000 new jobs every day. But many IT jobs are likely to be handled by specialist agencies, so we would recommend that they sign up with the most appropriate ones."
The DWP says the jobcentre service has strengthened its links with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) to support jobseekers in specialist areas. "This opens a wide range of opportunities for all customers. Recruitment agencies can offer additional support to Jobcentre Plus services and help customers search for suitable opportunities by sector and area," it says.
Tom Hadley, director of external relations at the REC, says jobcentres have been under pressure. "This is in terms of the high volume of demand and the capacity to provide services to different sectors of the jobs market."
He says the partnership between the REC and the jobcentre network, which has been strengthened during the recession, is an attempt to remedy this and has been successful. "It allows the jobcentres to tap into the expertise of specialist recruiters," he says, adding that the amount of money committed to this is still relatively low.
Hadley says the three-month rule, where jobseekers have to broaden their searches, is probably inappropriate for some IT workers. "I can understand why it creates a problem for IT professionals that have very specialist skills. This is because they do not want to take the first job that comes up because looking for a job is a full time job itself," he says. "There needs to be flexibility."
The jobcentre service has faced huge pressure over the past couple of years and has taken steps to meet the challenge. But work needs to be done to make it more relevant and responsive to IT professionals, who make up a growing proportion of the UK workforce.
- 328,300 people made claims for Jobseeker's Allowance in December 2009
- 351,700 stopped claiming in the same month.
- 70% of people get off Jobseeker's Allowance within six months
- Half of all jobseekers get back into work within three months of making their first claim for Jobseeker's Allowance
- The government has invested an extra £5bn to support jobseekers in this recession