Outsourcing is increasing the UK IT skills gap, says survey

There is a debate in the IT industry about why UK corporates feel the need to outsource and offshore. Most say it’s because of a skills shortage. There is no shortage of IT graduates but there is a shortage of those with the right skills,” they say.

But cost cutting is felt to be the real reason by most the IT community. And the problem for IT graduates is getting the hands-on experience that corporates claim to crave.

I have been running a survey for a few months asking for opinions on the link between IT outsourcing and the UK’s IT skills gap.

This week I exceeded the 200 mark in terms of respondents so thought it is a good time to publish the results and close the survey.

A massive 82% answered yes to the question: Do you think IT outsourcing has contributed to a shortage of UK IT professionals? 16% said no and 2% said they didn’t know.

Outsourcing and more specifically offshoring is being blamed for a shortage in certain IT skills, say. There are plenty of IT graduates looking for work but they struggle to get work experience and the skills this provides. This, many say, is because entry level jobs are taken by offshore workers who do it for less money.

John Harris, chair of The Corporate IT Forum and chief architect and head of IT strategy at pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for example told Computer weekly in a recent interview that years of outsourcing commodity IT skills has much to blame for the lack of grass-roots IT talent today. “It is important to feed the pipeline at the bottom end,” he says.

“While outsourcing did bring value, people moved jobs that should not have been moved. We outsourced our skills pipeline.”

This has meant the IT prospects for young people were effectively hamstrung. He says young people were not being given a chance to come into the industry.

“Yes, it may be more economical to outsource to India, but such a job may be the type of work that gives an apprentice a real grounding [in IT],” he says.

By developing skills in-house young IT apprentices who progress into future IT architecture experts will have a thorough grasp of the businesses. It may be regarded as a long game, but Harris believes clear career planning and progression can ultimately deliver high value to a business.

One survey respondent says, “From experience I have seen repeatedly where Indian vendors bring to the UK resources with very limited experience. The UK is used as a training ground at the expense of UK citizens.”

Many respondents blame the Intra Company Transfer (ICT) rules as the cause. Large multi-nationals, including offshore IT services firms, that have UK operations can bring in workers on ICTs. These workers are cheaper than their UK equivalents.

76% of respondents survey agree that apprentice schemes are the answer to the skills shortage.

One reader summed up how many IT professionals feel:  “We also refuse to hire UK-based IT graduates because they don’t have the latest buzzwords on their CVs either (because nobody’s ever given them a chance to acquire those buzzwords) and even a UK graduate trainee (burdened with massive college debts) will struggle to compete on cost with the ICT graduate trainees. Then, having systematically eliminated most of the ways in which UK-based IT workers can find work, stay in work and continue to develop their skills at work, we complain about the “IT skills shortage” and use it to justify yet more cheap imports. Repeat ad nauseam, or at least until the UK is so dependent on cheap foreign IT labour that we are no longer capable of maintaining or developing our own IT infrastructure, just like RBS.

I need to emigrate, and I would strongly advise any young person considering a career in IT (i.e. one that might last past their 30th birthday) to do likewise. The UK simply does not want to invest in maintaining and developing its own IT industry any more, whatever hype gets spouted by politicians and their corporate masters.”

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On a related topic, the BBC reported on claims by the Lords Science and Technology Committee that universities are not producing enough science and technology graduates with the skills needed by UK industry:


The report is the usual nonsense about "skills shortages", but there are hundreds of comments, many from highly qualified and experienced scientists pointing to the lack of career opportunities for STEM graduates. It's not just the IT sector that has been screwed by greedy short-sighted employers.

And see this:


"Nearly a quarter of UK engineering graduates are working in non-graduate jobs or unskilled work such as waiting and shop work, a report suggests."

"less than half (about 46%) of 2009 engineering graduates were in jobs directly related to their degree subject six months after leaving university."

"But the CBI, which represents British businesses, said employers still complained of a shortage of suitably qualified and employable candidates.

The CBI's director for education and skills policy, Susan Anderson, said: "The latest CBI survey shows that the shortage of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates is an issue for businesses, but companies also raised questions about the quality of Stem graduates coming through, many of whom were lacking in practical workplace experience or employability skills."

I almost wonder if this whole STEM "skills shortage" lie is some giant conspiracy.

Business only wants to employ people with previous experience (i.e. no training costs), and is failing to employ and train graduates. Salaries are rock bottom for STEM jobs so anyone who can gets a job in banking or accountancy or even in fast food or supermarket or office admin work because it pays more. Therefore business cannot find the skilled people they want at the price they are willing to pay, so there is a "shortage".

IT outsourcing is a major issue in the UK. It's great that there are companies out there such as Bright Future who are closing the gap by training up apprentices in IT development and providing them with jobs while providing businesses with low cost onshore outsoucing! If you want to find out more head to their website @ http://www.BrightFuture.co.uk

@David Williams:

Your company website offers "Onshore software development at offshore prices". Perhaps you could explain how that represents a sustainable basis for the UK-based IT profession in a country with first-world living costs/taxes/social insurance etc, where those costs are rising while salaries in many parts of the industry have remained stagnant or even declined over the last 10 years. As we have seen recently with the meat processing industry, if you force costs down to unsustainable levels, the only people who can still make money are those who are prepared to sacrifice quality and the long-term viability of the UK-based industry for the sake of a quick short-term profit. The UK IT market is now flooded with cheap suppliers of poor quality software services, while thousands of UK-based IT professionals have been forced out of the industry altogether. You are part of the problem, not the solution.