Business abilities at a premium as rise of offshoring holds down demand for programmers
The UK is experiencing a boom in demand for business-related IT skills, early findings from the latest Computer Weekly/SSL Survey of Appointments Data and Trends have revealed.
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The number of job adverts for MIS and IT managers increased by close to 30% in the first quarter of 2006. Demand for business systems analysts and project managers also rose by more than 20%, according to the survey of recruitment advertising on the internet and in the press conducted by research firm SSL.
The steep rise in the number of management jobs advertised is set against a more modest increase in overall IT recruitment advertising, indicating a continued “two-speed economy” for technology skills.
Lower-level IT skills, such as PC support, barely registered any growth during the first quarter, and the market for technical support skills is similarly sluggish. Growth in demand for software engineers was also flat, and the number of vacancies for network staff fell slightly from the previous quarter.
Anne Swain, chief executive of the Association of Technology Staffing Companies, said there were two factors contributing to the two-speed market for IT skills.
"The market has been picking up for a while but there is a bit more confidence this year. New projects always need managers when they start up, and then companies will recruit lower-level skills."
The trend towards offshore outsourcing has exacerbated the difference between demand for business management IT skills and technical skills. “When companies come to build and support applications they now have a choice of doing it in-house, outsourcing or going offshore," Swain said.
Philip Virgo, strategic adviser at the Institute for the Management of Information Systems, said, "You cannot contract out management jobs to India, whereas with a lot of programming and systems development you can."
However, Virgo said one area in which technical skills would remain in demand in the UK was in financial services. "You have to have world-class skills in a world-class market, such as financial services," he said.
But generally IT professionals should look to acquire greater business understanding and management skills to progress their careers.
"Skills, in other words, to identify what users want and specify it, rather than developing systems. Once you specify something, you can contract out the development to India," said Virgo.
He recommended that technology staff look for internal opportunities to work closely with users or business units. Those out of work could also look to the voluntary sector to gain business and management skills, he said.
Ovum analyst Kate Hanaghan said the shape of the UK jobs market was shifting from a pyramid, with most jobs in lower-level IT support and system development, to a diamond shape, with most of the jobs in middle management and fewer low-level posts.
"The key is making sure that your skills are up-to-date and you are gaining management and domain expertise.
“If you can get experience working with global suppliers, including those based in India, then you will be in demand," said Hanaghan.
* The full analysis of the Computer Weekly/SSL Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends will be published on 16 May
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