Government digital drive hit by government immigration policies

As any IT manager who has tried to recruit software developers with digital skills and agile experience will know, there are not enough suitably skilled people on the market.

For those that are available, they can pick and choose – a major retailer looking to improve its multichannel offering; a bank moving into mobile and web services; maybe even a tech startup creating new apps or innovative websites.

So how appealing to this in-demand, skilled – and thereby well-paid – group, is working for a big government department surrounded by bureaucracy and politics, on a public sector wage?

To few people’s surprise, the answer is likely to be “not many”, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is finding out in trying to recruit digital experts for its troubled Universal Credit programme.

To be fair, it hasn’t been a problem for the Government Digital Service (GDS), which has successfully recruited some of the top development talent in the country from digital leaders such as the BBC, The Guardian and the Financial Times.

But GDS is different – it’s a startup culture within Whitehall, deliberately created with an agile culture at odds with most of the civil service. IT experts have been attracted to GDS on short, fixed-term contracts by the opportunity to be part of a team that wants to change how government does business. GDS staff are not and never will be career civil servants.

AS DWP is finding out, it has yet to prove it is an equally attractive destination.

The great irony is that this is a problem at least partly of the government’s making. Recruitment experts told Computer Weekly that one of the causes of the skills shortage in digital developers is that as much as a third of such jobs used to be filled by English-speaking immigrants from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The restrictions on immigration introduced by David Cameron mean those skilled IT experts don’t bother moving to the UK anymore. And with the ever-decreasing numbers of students studying or taking jobs in IT – and the near-elimination of training budgets for existing staff in many companies – there’s no short-term solution either.

Successive government have been warned about the long-term effects of the IT skills shortage for many years – now this government is suffering as a result.