Firms struggle to fill IT graduate positions

Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill graduate jobs as the shortage of young people taking IT-related degrees begins to make itself felt.

Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill graduate jobs as the shortage of young people taking IT-related degrees begins to make itself felt.

The number of people studying computing at university has been falling steadily for the past few years, and the lack of graduates has started to cause recruitment problems for businesses.

In response, some employers have resorted to outsourcing and offshoring lower-level jobs, and others have competed for scarce recruits by offering higher salaries. Firms such as LogicaCMG have started to take on non-IT graduates and A-level students, training them up themselves in the skills they need.

Large employers such as British Airways and Google report no problems with getting the people they need, but companies without their high profile are starting to struggle, professional bodies have warned.

The British Computer Society said the drop off in the number of IT graduates coming out of universities could be "very damaging" for smaller businesses, and it has urged as many organisations as possible to take an interest in education.

Anne De Roeck, chair of the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing, said, "The IT sector has about 120,000 new jobs a year and there are just not that many people coming out of the education sector.

"It is going to be difficult to address this shortage. Taking on A-level students is just one example of how a big employer can compete, but it does not solve the problem for the large number of small to medium firms which characterise the IT sector.

"The question remains of how small firms are going to afford the high level of re-skilling that is necessary. The large companies have more resources and are better placed to attract the few graduates that are there."

De Roeck said there were generally two options open to firms who cannot afford to train their own IT staff. "Outsourcing or offshoring is a possibility, because these skills can be acquired overseas, and it can be more cost-effective to do this. Another option is to import these skills from abroad," she said.

De Roeck believes the government may have to step in to help close the gap between the demand for qualified people and the decline in new IT graduates.

Ann Swain, chief executive of the Association of Technology Staffing Companies, said employers must share some of the blame for the shortages.

"There has been a real shortage of entry-level jobs because so much has been outsourced and offshored. There have been fewer jobs to come into, and that affects how many people want to work in IT.

"In addition, there has been a low level of training for the past five or six years, so the biggest shortage now is of people with three or four years' experience."

The answer, she said, lies with the employers. "A number of big employers need to group together and spend money on graduates being trained. Unless that happens, the situation is going to get worse."

Jeremy Beale, head of e-business at the Confederation of British Industry, said, "Large employers are already doing quite a lot, and they are suffering as well as the SMEs.

"The problem is the lack of graduates with the right skills - where the IT degree has a business element to it. The new E-Skills IT and business degree is available in a few universities, but there needs to be more."

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