An emerging worldwide battle for IT skills is stopping UK businesses from re-organising for growth and preventing new recruits from fulfilling their potential in the workplace. Unless UK plc changes its mindset towards IT recruitment, it could be at a catastrophic competitive disadvantage in the future, writes Chris Miller, senior vice-president and general manager UK & Ireland at CA.
As Gartner emphasised in its Talent in Trying Times report, irrespective of market conditions, growth, innovation and globalised brands are paramount. Organisations need a "right people" strategy ahead even of appropriate technology. In these conditions, the battle for IT talent is a global one, causing serious long-term implications for UK employers.
As competition from other economies bites, China is experiencing IT skills shortages, while Indian outsourcers refine their business models with "local" recruiting in Europe and the USA. Multinationals are planning general outsourcing of more functions to beat the downturn. These trends are taking away companies' core IT development programmes. IT and business skills are being removed from companies and denied to new recruits, undermining of all types of businesses' long-term development.
Despite hikes in UK education spending over the past decade, Britain's employers remain dissatisfied by recruits' suitability. CBI research revealed that two-thirds of employers think graduates lack the business skills necessary for the workplace. This could become a wider chorus of disapproval when recovery finally arrives and workplace talent remains thin on the ground.
But there is a paradox here. Britain is failing to understand and nurture the strategic role of technology at the precise time when we need skilled practitioners to harness the power of IT to run the connected enterprise. This is all leading to a significant gap between the complexity and changing needs of an organisation and the ability of different departments to meet them with new strategies, smart technologies and innovation.
As senior management reach for the short-term offshoring medicine, the real cure lies in equipping workforces with a balance of technology, project management, commercial and communications skills to recognise and build innovative alternatives to large-scale IT outsourcing.
Employers must find alternatives to costly development of workforce talent in-house. They need to build relationships with the community, schools and universities to bring exciting business and IT skills into the way we learn.
Equipping students for the workplace
In the UK, blue-chips, the skills body E-Skills UK, and universities are updating the perception of IT, with new degree courses that balance business with technology skills. These courses are integrating face-to-face mentoring from IT executives and exposure to real business environments, to cultivate wider business skills among their undergraduates. Students that are able to discuss a CIO's role with them face-to-face will more quickly grasp the potential of IT in the workplace.
UK business needs a more far-reaching and structured approach to help young people understand the pivotal role technology plays in business and society. Parents across the globe are no longer surprised by the way their children bring different technologies into their everyday lives. Yet the falling numbers of applications for A-level and degree-level technology courses shows the task that awaits UK plc in sparking greater interest in technology within business.
Only through determined outreach to schools and colleges that inspires potential recruits with technology's possibilities will UK employers show what IT can do for them. To remain competitive on the global stage, Britain's CEOs must to fight harder to bring IT talent into our industry. These brave companies will reap the rewards - as will a better skilled, more fulfilled young workforce.
This was first published in July 2009