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The IT skills gap is not a new phenomenon. A lack of qualified staff and increased competition for talented developers have long been the scourge of the industry.
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However, as the dichotomy between skills supply and demand widens, more IT professionals are taking on the role of ‘contractor’, forgoing job security in order to charge a premium for their services.
With demand for web and software experts due to rise at five times the market rate and new immigration laws set to reduce the pool of available candidates even further, technology firms must act now to strengthen their cash position, ensuring they are able to attract talent, invest in their workforce and achieve business growth.
We conducted research with the owners and managing directors of IT specialist recruitment agencies. Some 87% of respondents said a mismatch of skills and job criteria was their biggest challenge, while 79% experienced a lack of jobs versus suitable candidates. Because of this, 84% of recruitment bosses had seen an increase in demand for temporary or contract roles, rather than permanent positions.
The current skills shortage and subsequent rise of the IT ‘super contractor’ is driven by a lack of home-grown computer scientists. New immigration laws that come into effect next April will prevent all non-EU Economic Area workers from staying in the UK for more than five years unless they are earning over £35,000 a year. Some 85% of IT recruiters think this will further reduce the number of available candidates.
Barrier to growth
For technology firms, current market conditions create a real barrier to business growth. The skills shortage is driving a reliance on specialist head-hunters and has led to higher recruitment costs. Alongside this, the increased demand for specialist staff has left many businesses with an inflated wage bill and increased staff turnover.
This uncertainty hits business confidence and hinders business growth. The cost of recruiting the staff required to expand can put huge pressure on organisations’ cashflow, leaving them in a weak financial position and unable to pursue new contract opportunities.
This problem is particularly acute for SMEs, for whom one late payment from a major client can cause a significant strain on their working capital. Our analysis of client debtor payments showed that the worst-offending firms take up to 121 days to pay outstanding invoices.
React and protect
IT businesses should act now to adapt to changing market conditions. It is vital that firms invest in their staff, working to attract and retain skilled individuals. This can be achieved through careful management of the working environment and implementing an appealing remuneration package. Alternatively, companies may find it more efficient to train staff and develop desired skills in-house.
Either way, this investment relies on businesses maintaining a strong cash position. By protecting cashflow, firms can better absorb the effects of a skills shortage and maintain the agility to supplement their workforce. Doing so will facilitate business growth.
Only the most adaptable firms will capitalise on the increased appetite for digital services at a time when skilled workers are in such short supply.
Steve Smith is managing director of Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance