Your Shout! What's all this about a skills shortage?

Is there an IT skills shortage? In a recent Thought for the Day piece, columnist Colin Beveridge asked to see the...

Is there an IT skills shortage? In a recent Thought for the Day piece, columnist Colin Beveridge asked to see the evidence, and concluded that it was almost certainly a figment of the collective imagination.

Many readers agree, as shown by the selection of e-mails below. Others suspect there may be a skills shortage but also regret the lack of dependable statistics.

Read Colin Beveridge's piece on the skills crisis >>

Here's what our readers say:

I agree with Colin. It is very important to get hard facts and I believe the true picture is quite the reverse of a skills crisis - IT professionals are suffering from an unprecedented bad situation.

A lot of the problems stem from the fact that many of the people involved - employers and politicians - don't understand the field, especially its high speed of change. If you advertise for 25-year-olds with two years experience of .net at an annual salary of £20,000, you won't get many takers.

Employers must:

  • stop their ageist practices
  • understand that generic skills are more important than specific ones
  • train staff
  • be prepared to pay rates that reflect the quality of the people they are hiring.

The Government's actions over IR35 and fast-track visas have greatly worsened the situation. Contractors have always been the first to get on their bikes and adapt to the market and they have been badly hit by the vindictive IR35 which treats them as employees until they need the protection of employee status and ties their hands in dealing with big business.

The fast-track visa scheme has been a godsend to employers who want to pay as little as possible. I don't know of any plans to fast-track low-cost Asian lawyers, despite the rates in that profession - too many lawyers in Parliament, I guess.

Of course the lower that employers force rates by bringing in low-wage people, the fewer British graduates will want to join the profession, so there is the danger of a real shortage occurring in future.

Peter Croft

If there is a skills shortage, it's not helping me. I have a degree in Computing and Information Systems, from which I gained a placement year on IT Support.

But I won't have the experience I need until I can get a job. I want to get into systems or Web development, yet they all want two or more years' experience. I feel as if the debt I have got myself into for my degree and the degree itself is now worthless. I also feel that if I am not employed and trained soon, then I will be out of the game by the time things pick up.

There are so many graduates in my position and hardly any jobs to go round unless you go to London. Some of us can't afford London.

Melanie Williams

The skills shortage is a myth. It is perpetuated by HR departments which specify five years' experience for a language that may have only been around for two years. They then shout about a skills crisis.
It is further perpetuated by employers that are inflexible. For example, they might insist on a set of skills nobody would have in the hope they can employ one person instead of three. Or be too rigid on what experience is required for a particular job by, say, insisting on Visual Basic Version 6 experience rather than Version 5, regardless of an individual's ability to rapidly learn a particular skill.

For a person with a broad base of experience in different technical skills, picking up a new skill takes a matter of weeks or even days.
Part of the definition of the skills shortage is also that an employer cannot get a particular skill for a particular price. Adverts offering £10 per hour are not unknown, but this rate is less than what a newly qualified nurse is paid.

There is yet another factor. Some individuals have become very wealthy by filling in jobs with Indian workers. By bringing Indian workers into the UK, who are not aware of the costs of living in the UK, they have managed to get 100% to 200% mark-up on the rate they pay to those people. 
I suspect that much of the politicking is to do with making IT a vocation, as opposed to a profession. IR35 is certainly making it that way. 

F. O. Allan

It is a myth!
I was made redundant at the end of January 2002, from a small company that was running out of cash having found little new business over the previous year. I have 30 years of IT experience, including much current experience of Microsoft Office and operating systems, communications and databases. I specialise in document and knowledge management.
I am still trying to get a permanent job. I have applied for many, had a few interviews, but no success yet. Each time I've asked about the "competition" I've been told there were around 300 other applicants.
I also keep hearing about companies that are subcontracting work to teams in India and the Far East where wages are low. As a result, I'm now considering jobs at salaries lower than I was earning 15 years ago - without taking inflation into account!

Thank you for an excellent article, I totally agree with Colin.

John Tomlinson

I support Colin's thoughts that there is little evidence of skills verification in the UK. I encourage companies to assess and verify the IT skills within their organisations because my company provides bespoke software that achieves this.

However, it is always a shock to discover how little is known about ICT skill deficiencies within the organisation.

Even the NHS, which proclaims that 22% of its workforce have no IT experience and 53% have poor or limited skills, is unable to validate these facts from objective skills assessments.

The scenario is the same wherever I go: there is no systematic skills assessment in place to identify skill deficiencies, which means that any development plans that may exist are useless.

Fiona Hudson-Kelly

What skill shortages?

Just a short while ago, the company where I work for shed some 30% of the jobs and I just managed to survive the cull.

Despite having "in demand" skills such as J2EE, C++ and XML, I do not see anyone rushing to offer me a job. I think it is a ploy by big companies to import cheap overseas labour that they can exploit.

Mohammad Negargar

To adapt Winston Churchill's saying: "Never in the field of industry has so much been known by so few compared to so many."

The perceived skills shortage is another example of an industry where its left hand does not know what its right hand is doing. It's frightening that there are so many people without appropriate IT knowledge.

Imagine if all other UK industries were like IT. I hesitate to think what this country would be like!

Stephen Jubb

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