For years organisations have complained about the paucity of staff with good IT skills. The apparent lack of good permanent staff led to the contractor boom of the 1990s and has recently contributed to the spate of outsourcing agreements, as organisations opt to shift the IT employee burden to a third party, whatever the business cost.
But this belief that IT skills are thin on the ground is a myth created in no small part by the recruitment agencies that have a stranglehold over the industry. They use it to encourage high rates and convince employers to accept candidates irrespective of their suitability for a specific role. The problem is exacerbated because many recruitment consultants do not understand IT and selection techniques are not rigorous enough.
Recruitment consultants often have no technology training and do not read the trade press in which most of the job advertisements are placed. Therefore, how can consultants understand the job specification, let alone identify the best candidates?
But having undertaken the process of wading through up to 10 irrelevant CVs for each position and endured a couple of interviews, many organisations feel obliged to select at least one of these people, however lacking in appropriate expertise they may be.
Why are organisations at every level, from blue chip to small and medium-sized firms, prepared to accept this haphazard recruitment of the people that design, develop and support these critical systems?
Part of the problem is that the recruitment consultancy industry is driven by commission.
Although internet-based job advertising is undoubtedly on the increase, most of the IT recruitment market, even up to senior technical positions, is managed by agents who are 100% sales-focused. They receive a fee based on placing people with a company and tend to besiege organisations with unprompted calls to promote CVs.
But employers are also culpable. Not only have they accepted a poor level of service, they also continue to make demands that undermine the service concept.
Many organisations stipulate a turnaround time as part of the recruitment contract. What nonsense. By specifying that CVs must be received within 48 hours and the vacancy filled within two weeks, organisations are immediately precluding all the people already employed because they will be on a four-week notice period.
Recruitment consultants need the IT expertise to interpret job requirements and assess candidates. These candidates should also undergo face-to-face assessment and complete detailed questionnaires that encompass technical and industry experience to improve the accuracy of the matching process. Effective assessment of candidate CVs should ensure that no more than three CVs for each position are sent to the client - all of which should be relevant.
For senior, high-price technical positions, the combination of search and select techniques with a headhunter, coupled with a traditional recruitment consultancy, can provide real benefits.
But the fact that a slapdash approach to recruitment continued during the downturn when the market was flush with excellent people is extremely concerning.
IT departments need to take a more proactive approach to demanding and paying for service from recruitment companies if they want to employ the calibre of people required to support business-critical IT systems.
Jerry Cave is director at IT skills and services company Plan-Net
This was first published in November 2004