IT skills shortage in the UK? Discuss

I have been blogging this week about a survey a reader put together to try and get to the bottom of the UK IT skills shortage.

We went from 41 respondents on the first day to 123 on the second. Now on the third day it appears to have hit a plateau, with 141 respondents. It’s a good number and will provide me with lots of material.

Possibly the most interesting part of the survey is the part when people comment on the UK skills shortage and offshoring. I will be reporting much more of the findings in the blog.

I have posted many of these comments on previous blogs. See this link and this link.

And today I have copied the comments, which were posted yesterday, below. A real debate has developed and there is still time to be part of it by filling in the survey here.

Not only is the survey and the blog post receiving good debate, but bookmarking and discussion website has IT workers across the world talking about it. Take a look on this link.

And to the comments:

1 – “I think the skills shortage question could be misleading depending on the type of company.

Personally, I’ve been working mostly for relatively small IT start-ups (20-40 staff) for the last 5 years and we’ve always had problems attracting competent senior developers of any nationality. In both my current and previous role it has been incredibly rare to get British applicants for permanent senior developer positions and as such we have a very multicultural team. In a couple of cases we’ve had to take on people with poor English but good technical skills just to meet staffing needs, with the hope that they pick up the language as they go (sometimes it works out well, sometimes not).

On the other hand, of the few UK applicants we do get, nearly all of them are coming out of large multi-national firms which have outsourced their IT to India.

Probably a big difference is that at the senior developer stage people are looking for a secure position with a clear career path and benefits which start-ups can’t really guarantee. Also, there seems to be culture in the IT industry that once developers reach a senior level they move more into project management roles rather than programming which does leave a gap in the market for genuinely experienced coders.

In terms of the quality of out-sourced developers it can vary a lot. My experience of working with out-sourced companies, particularly Indian firms, isn’t that the developers are necessarily less capable than UK/European-devs but more that the culture of the out-sourcing firms doesn’t encourage any development of skills or independent problem solving outside a tightly-defined job spec. This is very obvious when interviewing candidates coming from such firms, typically their CVs look fantastic on paper – lots of experience on large projects in a wide range of technologies, but when presented with complex problems to solve they struggle.”

2 – “Not so much a skills shortage in specific areas, more a lack of candidates with the right mix of skills…..

As more firms are turning to a cloud computing/off shore model, hard technical skills are bound to be in less demand.

As for the quality of the off shore market, you get what you pay for!!

Graduates may have abroad range of skills but none of the soft skills required by modern businesses, these skills should be taught as a part of an IT degree programme.

As an IT manager I would readily recruit graduates but only at an entry level as they do not have the soft skill and experience required for more senior posts. I would expect to loose them after 12-18 months anyway.”

3 – “I’d like to move into a different field, or I’m going to move away and not really look for an IT job.”

4 – “I see many UK IT staff being laid off then projects being run by Asian contractors.”

5 – “Because IT won’t exist as a viable industry in the UK.”

6 – “Offshoring has destroyed the UK industry, by people who know next to nothing about development. Never seen a successful outsourcing operation!”

7 – “There is not a shortage of IT skills!  There is a shortage of experienced EU citizens who have EU living costs being willing to accept Asian rates of pay. Especially considering that offshore, predominately Indian firms, pay reduced Corp tax, do not have to charge VAT, pay their staff minimum wage and include tax free expenses in those payments. I’m all for globalisation, but we need to compare like with like.

Under those circumstances, how is the average EU/UK citizen supposed to compete? While all those captains of industry and civil service mandarins are congratulating themselves on achieving cost cutting objectives and securing their bonuses, who will be left in work to pay the taxes necessary to keep a typical western state functioning?”

8 – “The labour market is a simple economic model.  If demand is outstripping supply, then prices will be higher.  However, with contract rates lower now than they were 5 years ago, and permanent salaries stagnant this would indicate that it is supply that is outstripping demand.
There is no skills shortage.”

9 – “I’m a contractor and spent two years out of work due to downturn in 2007. I got back in to work a year ago and am staggered by the increase in the number of offshore, particularly Indian, staff that is now here. Of course there are some competent staff but the vast majority are basically useless and leave indigenous staff to clear up their mess, Management are blind to this as their only concern seems to be the bottom line. I asked one manager where his children would work once all our IT jobs are off-shored. He couldn’t answer.”

10 – “There is a shortage of highly skilled staff, but there are a lot of staff available who say they can do things that it then turns out they need to learn on the job; sometimes they excel and do the job, but at other times they sit there getting paid and not contributing as much as someone with the skills could have done.

In various cases, especially in small companies, the person recruiting doesn’t know enough about the subject they are recruiting for and so picks the best all rounder rather than the best skills for the main role they are looking to employ.

In contract work there is also an issue of people pushing prices lower and lower to a point that is unsustainable in the long run but makes some customers happy. Luckily I am in the position that people come to me through word-of-mouth if they want a good job done well, but I have to turn away potential customers who just want to push the price down and go for the lowest bidder (again because they don’t understand fully what they really need a lot of the time and as a more technical person I am not the greatest at explaining that too them without sounding preachy!).”

11 – “There are too many “skilled” non EU staff being brought into the industry or too many companies are outsourcing to the EU countries.  The unions in the UK are soft with companies whereas those in France, Germany are not.  These countries look after the workforce and protect them whereas the UK rolls over and takes it. IT Managers are not the skilled types that they used to be (in my opinion) they are people without skills (IT and Personnel), they are being given the authority to control budgets, training, etc and they just follow the rest… outsource.  This country will be outsourced to other European countries until there is a major problem then (like the non EU call centres) companies will come back when they realise what mistakes have been made.  Of course too little too late.”

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Skills shortages are used to justify employer sponsored work visas. It is time a forgotten lib dem policy is brought in to increase visa costs to pay for training UK workers:

The US has a scholarship and training fee on H-1B visas. The UK should do the same.

Excellent point - well made.

Not only is an IT illiterate work force bad for the country - with an increase of Cyber Crime - it is a threat to national security.

What nation places its national security in the hands of a foreign country? I work in a company where the IT is affectively controlled from abroad

and where the management have to accept any price they are quoted because they are to greater extent IT illiterate and unable to manage technical projects.

E-skills have a new report out which stresses that there will be increasing demand for IT skills in the next 5 years.

As for current skill shortages, only about 10% of companies in their survey said they were having problems recruiting people with the right IT skills. In fact, almost 90% were happy with the skills of their IT workforce and had no problems hiring the people they need.

The Migration Advisory Committee commissioned some research last year on skills shortages and training. Of the several sectors the researchers looked at, guess which sector had the lowest problems finding people with the correct skills in the UK? Yes, it was IT.

@ArgieBee: "In fact, almost 90% were happy with the skills of their IT workforce and had no problems hiring the people they need."

Which probably explains why so many major firms feel no need to invest in training their staff to develop new skills, eh?

"Skills shortage" my @r5£...

As a UK based training consultant [non technical] with experience working in the EU & India i'm interested to find out more about the shortage of soft skills within the IT sector. Can anyone elaborate? Many thanks

I think finding technical people to fill a specific gap is not a problem. There is an abundance of cheap (and largely technically capable) candidates available.

The problem is finding technical people with the right soft skills - ability to communicate with clients etc. If you have both skills - good technical depth and breadth with consulting ability - you will always be in demand.

I recently ended a 4.5 year contract. I was a little concerned about finding a role, but within 2 weeks I was offered 4 permanent jobs within a 5 mile radius of my home (hertfordshire). The hiring companies actually started a bidding war in some respects. And I don't consider myself to be in the development elite, just a competent developer with good interpersonal skills.

The same is true when I'm hiring. I can get dozens of CVs for a particular skill set. But cannot find a candidate that I can be sure can be left to manage the development lifecycle of projects. So I struggle to recruit.

So I would say skills shortage, no. Decent candidate shortage, definitely.

Great article, you've hit the nail on the head with the shortage of EU people willing to accept Asian wages.

Although wages play a huge part, insourcing has a host of other benefits and could potentially be more cost effective when measuring ROI.

There are some good points listed in this post - Obama, Insourcing & (Your) Microsoft Office.