Staff may have to finance own training as offshoring increases

Workers will increasingly have to finance their own training if government, unions and the IT industry do not address the...

Workers will increasingly have to finance their own training if government, unions and the IT industry do not address the changing skills landscape resulting from increased offshore outsourcing, experts have warned.

As a growing number of UK companies outsource IT systems and business processes to countries with cheap and highly skilled staff, such as China and India, IT professionals will have to take more responsibility for their professional development, according to Philip Virgo, strategic adviser to the Institute for the Management of Information Systems.

Several training firms already offer tailored training packages for individual IT staff in return for a fixed annual fee, said Virgo.

"The competition for IT skills is increasingly international as a result of more offshore outsourcing," he said. "As we seem to be coming out of a recession, you could have expected to see a gradual skills shortage developing in the UK, but that is not happening because many more skills are being found in places such as China and India. It is understandable for companies to look at this option and, unless more is done to help them finance their training, IT workers here will see less invested in their development."

Like IT trade body Intellect, Imis called for tax breaks for staff training from chancellor Gordon Brown ahead of the budget.

"We currently have the ludicrous situation of those going to university being given help in the form of subsidy, and those paying for training in the commercial world being taxed for it," said Virgo.

But Terry Watts, chief operating officer at IT training bodyE-Skills UK, said UK companies would continue to depend on skilled in-house IT staff despite the growing popularity of offshore outsourcing.

"It is true that networks have improved considerably over the past few years to make it easier to outsource abroad, and companies will continue to be tempted to save money, but many areas of IT are not fully commoditised, so a company still needs internal skills," he said.

Watts said the biggest fear IT staff should have about their jobs was not a lack of training as a result of offshore outsourcing, but an increase in the level of automation, which will make many IT functions redundant. Many employers are increasing the training offered to existing staff in the face of tough business conditions because it is cheaper than hiring new staff, Watts added.

Leah McTaggart, spokeswoman for QA Training and Consulting, said offshore outsourcing has had no effect so far on the demand on her company to provide training to UK staff. "Certification is still high on the agenda for most companies, with skills connected to project management among the highest in demand, as firms look to spend more as we come out of recession," she said.

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