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Living with skill shortages

The world is suffering from IT skill shortages but that might just be something we all have to get used to concludes Billy MacInnes

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When I was a kid growing up in a small town in Zambia, we used to have a lot of shortages. Usually it was staples such as cooking oil, flour, butter or, worst of all for the adults, beer. Whenever these scarce commodities became available again, people would descend on the supermarket and, despite attempts to ration how much individuals could buy, the shelves would soon be cleared. The scramble was even worse when the trucks laden with crates of beer finally arrived after months of beer drought.

We also grew accustomed to our water and electricity being cut off for large chunks of the day. It was a way of life.

The reason I mention this is not for nostalgic reasons but because, yet again, there are stories about the effect of IT skills shortages, in this case concerning the way they are hindering companies in their digital transformation efforts. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of these stories but it seems to me that there's nothing new here. Just as cooking oil or flour shortages were a common occurrence in that little town in Zambia, so skills shortages have become a way of life for the IT industry.

Even without oil, flour, butter or, God forbid, beer, the fabric of the town was never torn asunder and the forces of chaos and anarchy were never unleashed. Similarly, one thing we have learned through all the years of IT skills shortages is that, despite the dire (almost apocalyptic) predictions, things have ticked along reasonably well.

True, companies and organisations might be mildly inconvenienced or frustrated as they have to put up with delays to upgrading their infrastructure. But they're not going to fall apart overnight and collapse into liquidation. Why? Because most of the time when we talk about skills shortages, we're talking about companies seeking to upgrade or improve their IT infrastructure. Which means that, whatever the delay, there's an existing infrastructure underpinning their organisation which keeps things moving and performing.

Obviously, if the necessary skills weren't in short supply, things could get done quicker, which would be a good thing, but skills shortages don't result in disaster. They're just a way of life. If they weren't, don't you think the government, the IT industry and the companies that use IT would be doing a lot more to eradicate them completely?

This was last published in August 2016

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