79% private sector CIOs prefer private sector IT skills

I recently blogged about some research from the Financial Times which suggested that 57% of private businesses were not prepared to take on public sector workers with over half claiming they were not up to the job.

I asked IT professionals to give this issue an IT angle by asking whether readers thought public sector IT workers were equipped to do a private sector role. The questionnaire is below so you can still fill it in.

So far out of 31 respondents 16 said public sector workers are not equipped to do a private sector role. The other 15 said they are.

But ReThink Recruitment has gone one better. The company has asked 66 IT directors in the private sector what they think. The results showed a staggering 79% of them think they would get better value from IT workers with private sector experience.

Here is my survey if you want to fill it in.


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I've worked as a freelancer on a number of public sector projects in recent years. Certainly, many of my public sector colleagues have been perfectly competent, hard-working and dedicated. Equally, some of my private sector colleagues, especially from the fat consultancies that dominate government IT work, have been lacking in competence, initiative or any sense of their duty to their customers. I would not trust some of them to wash my car for a tenner, let alone build an IT system costing millions.

But overall, my impression is that at least 30% of my public sctor colleagues either lack the basic skills or are simply too institutionalised to survive in a commercial environment where they would have to justify their salaries through performance. Another 40% would struggle but could probably make the transition eventually, although their employers might have to allow for a fairly long transitional period of poor productivity. So only 30% - at most - are people I would reasonably expect to be productive from day one in a commercial environment.

The problems in public sector IT are well known. There have been enough enquiries and reports on government IT failures over the years after all, but nothing ever seems to improve. In my own experience, the characteristic features of public sector IT include massive bureaucracy, inflexibility, inability to make decisions or take responsibility for those decisions, sheer indifference to the financial impact of endlessly changing requirements, inability to change their own working practices to improve performance, inability to recognise and adapt when something simply is not working, and a general lack of any sense of urgency about - or responsibility for - getting the job done.

I like the public sector IT staff I've worked with, and I hope they all manage to survive the current wave of spending cuts and job losses. Their poor performance is at least partly due to factors beyond their control: an endemic culture of failure within public sector IT, government obsession with high profile white elephant IT projects, constant changes to the legislation underlying many public sector IT requirements, massive profiteering by bloated consultancies with friends in high places, complete abdication of all responsibility by senior public sector managers for being an intelligent customer when spending the taxpayer's money, and so on.

But if I were hiring people for a commercial enterprise that has to make a profit, satisfy the demands of its customers and adapt quickly to ever changing market circumstances and technologies, I think I would probably look elsewhere for recruits.