Preparing your organisation for the next ICT Skills Crisis

We have a multi-track skills market. The staff lucky enough to work for those who participated in the CELRE survey enjoyed increases in line with inflation (RPI) during the year to May 2008 while advertised salaries, as tracked by the equally venerable SSP survey, lagged behind anre are now often lower than for those in post. Meanwhile graduate recruitment programmes have been cancelled and recruitment advertising has fallen sharply.

The pattern is akin to that in 1991 when I did my first IT Skills Trends report. It was easy to predict what would happen from 1993 onwards – and it did. Many of the audience for that first report were participants in what is now the CELRE survey: that minority of ICT employers who think ahead and try to avoid laying off staff during recession. Instead they retrain them with the skills of the future, because they know what is to come.

The current Indian IT skills crisis, with an average churn rate of 24% among experienced (however limited) staff is as bad as the worst of the mid-1980s UK crisis. It also means that off-shoring is no longer a serious option for those who will have to staff the 2012 projects that will belatedly start to get under way next year. Those who do not act now to organise the necessary recruitment and retraining programmes will have to compete in a shrinking domestic puddle of atrophying skills.

That will not be easy for those struggling to survive as markets tighten all around them.

Nor was it easy in 1991.

I well remember one IT services CEO, who I greatly respected (and still do), saying “it’s all very well knowing what I should be doing but we have to survive the next year “. He did – and later retired a multi-millionaire. But I did not envy him during the period he earned his money.

Govenrment was no more help then than it is now.

But today the situation is rather more urgent and serious – with 2012 as immovable a deadline for many as Y2K was for all. The “Millenoium Bugbusters” training programme was the most successful government training programme (quality as well as timing, numbers and cost) since the MSc and other “conversion” courses of the late 1980s. We need to learn from the successes of the past not just the failures and we have very little itme left to do so. 

Hence the importance ot the EURIM exercise to try give the updating of workforce skills the same poliitcal priority as improving first entry skills. We are looking for those who want to see rapid and effective action, not just to “admire the problem”, yet again.

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