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.”