New IT staff lack business acumen says E-Skills

Rise in the number of vacant IT positions highlights the need for IT professionals to have more highly developed business and non-technical skills

The number of vacant hard-to-fill jobs in the IT sector rose sharply at the end of last year, according to the latest study from E-skills UK. The study also found that candidates lack business skills and technical expertise.

The proportion of companies finding it hard to fill IT posts increased from 6% to 16% between the third and fourth quarters of last year, according to the research from E-Skills, the public-private partnership established to help tackle the IT skills shortage in the UK.

E-Skills said systems development and programming were the most commonly cited areas that were hard to fill during the third quarter of last year. Provisional results from the fourth quarter of 2006 showed employers were also concerned about the availability of suitable candidates for software engineering, technical support and systems design posts.

The report suggests that employers are still finding it hard to hire IT staff with business and other non-technical skills. Those who reported gaps in the skills of their IT staff were more likely to have had issues with their non-technical skills than their technical abilities.

Some 27% of employers rated levels of business acumen among IT professionals as being poor or very poor. Other non-technical skills were also rated as being very poor by 27%."Business and other non-technical skills are becoming increasingly important for IT professionals,"  said Tilly Travers, an E-skills UK spokeswoman.

"The growing volume of IT professional roles in the UK is becoming focused on high-skill, customer-facing areas such as project management, business analysis and systems design. This requires a sophisticated set of skills and understanding; one that encompasses business, communication, team working and project management skills, as well as in-depth and up-to-date technical knowledge."

Thirty-three per cent of employers found that new IT staff also appeared to lack business skills and other non-technical skills, according to the E-skills study. In terms of interpersonal skills, new starters in IT were considered below par compared with existing staff.

Businesses were failing to develop communications and other business skills in IT staff, said Anne Swain, chief executive of Atsco, a group representing IT recruitment companies.
"Most businesses do not train for communications. Universities and colleges do not even teach the communication skills required by business, a practice that is commonplace in the US."

Swain advised IT professionals to read management coaching books to help gain these skills. It was also worth IT staff asking if they can spend time working in a business unit to improve non-technical skills, she said.

Tilly said employers and individuals should work together to identify skills needs and address these through appropriate training. E-skills was helping to address this with a new IT Professional Competency Model, she said.

The E-skills study also found that the percentage of IT vacancies classed as "replacement" positions - meaning those arising because of staff departures, retirement, etc - rose during the third quarter of 2006 to 26% of advertised jobs.

However, some evidence for buoyancy in the IT jobs market comes from the fact that the number of new positions was still more than twice the number of replacement jobs, whereas a year ago these figures were almost equal.

Evidence of a more recent upturn was confirmed by research from Computer Weekly and SSL last month, which revealed that the number of advertised jobs rose by 5% during the previous six months to 122,987, the highest level for five years.

Earlier this month, research from Kew Associates showed that retail was one of the leading sectors in IT growth, along with business services, which includes accountancy and legal firms.

E-Skills UK >>

Association of Technology Staffing Companies (Atsco) >>

Information on E-skills Procom >>

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