IT departments will need to invest more in training their staff despite a slowdown in demand for IT professionals, the latest jobs market research by E-Skills UK has revealed.
The sector skills council's ICT Inquiry found that demand for IT staff fell between the end of 2004 and the first quarter of 2005, with fewer firms reporting difficulties finding skilled people.
Despite this, about 6,000 firms across the UK are having difficulty recruiting IT staff, equivalent to a shortage of 9,000 positions, the research suggested.
At the same time, employers will demand more in-depth technical skills from their existing IT workforce, propelling the proportion of professionals with higher-level skills from 57% currently to 75% by 2008.
The trend is driven by the growth of outsourcing, which is leading to lower-level IT skills being transferred offshore, and creating a demand for higher-level technical and managerial skills in-house.
As a result, employers will need to continue to invest in training their staff, despite recent declines in overall demand for IT staff and evidence of receding skills shortages.
"Although to an extent the skills shortage position is improving, we still have a significant proportion of companies with a skills gap," said Peter Hounsome, who compiled the research for E-Skills UK. "Companies are looking for IT staff to hold much higher levels of skills in the future. We need to make sure we address existing skills and skills gaps of the future."
Demand for IT professionals with higher-level skills will grow by about 20% within three years for those specialising in networking and database design and development, the research predicted. The proportion of staff in technical support roles with higher level skills will rise from 35% to 80%, and the proportion of programmers with high level skills will grow from 26% to 63%.
The proportion of IT staff with expert management skills is expected to increase from 15% to 20% by 2008. The proportion with higher-level management skills will grow from 45% to 63%.
Nearly 50% of IT staff will need higher levels of sales and marketing skills by 2008, a shift that could require major retraining. The largest demand for sales skills will come from internet professionals, programmers and database staff.
Interpersonal skills and customer handling skills will also become more important, the research reveals.
"Although the figures show significant training and development is required, the situation is even more pronounced for smaller and micro organisations," said Hounsome.
Additional work needs to be done by E-Skills and businesses to ensure organisations have the required business planning in place, to anticipate their future skills requirements, he said.