Elusive skills under your nose

Hiring-in the skills you need often seems to solve the gaps in your workforce, but it could be a false economy warns Mark...

Hiring-in the skills you need often seems to solve the gaps in your workforce, but it could be a false economy warns Mark Lillycrop. Julia Vowler reports

Companies see the skills they need in all sorts of exotic places, not realising that they are sitting in their very own IT department, says Mark Lillycrop, research director at analyst firm Xephon.

At a time when the race is on to transform business using the Internet and electronic commerce, this, he predicts, is a bad mistake.

This is because, unlike strangers arriving from outside, your own staff are already experts in the way your company works.

"Companies need to focus far more on internal staff who understand the business processes and corporate structure, and ensure that they are reskilled, [for e-commerce] because their basic understanding of the job is fine, compared to turning to an external services provider and paying over the odds to get Java etc," says Lillycrop.

Instead of spending a fortune on recruiting outsiders, companies, "should focus more on training and keeping internal staff happy," he says. "They need to protect their information assets."

That focus has to be supported organisationally as well. Training budgets are perennially under threat, and there is huge pressure to sidestep it by yanking in an outsider instead. Conversely, the incumbent staff are operating in a volatile market, and can easily jump ship themselves - to another hungry company looking to hire its way out of the skills shortage. Nor is the current aura of panic surrounding e-commerce helping matters.

"There is a panic element about e-commerce," says Lillycrop. "Because it's happened so quickly, companies are resorting to short-term expediencies to find their resources. Taking a broader view the message is that IT directors must have the freedom to respond appropriately and keep up their internal skills while plugging any gaps with externally sourced skills."

Having an in-house focus, however, means, says Lillycrop, giving IT managers the flexibility and corporate support they need to promote, nurture and reward. "They need to be able to offer new incentives like share option solutions, which are becoming more widespread," he suggests.

There is also the issue of greater recognition as an element of reward. Internal staff will feel happier about their standing, if IT is made to play a more strategic role in the organisation.

Greater visibility and recognition for IT means greater visibility and recognition for those working in it. It also means not taking internal staff for granted so much, and appreciating the value of what it is they contribute. And what they still can, thanks to their experience.

"If you've been in IT in a large organisation for a while you'll have a good understanding of the business model and how you can evolve into e-commerce," points out Lillycrop.

When it comes to the good staff they already have, "senior managers need to be more appreciative," he says.

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