Extent of skills shortages exaggerated in some sectors

Some skills shortages identified by the Government, and thus eligible for the fast track work permit scheme, can be filled by British IT staff.

On the...

Some skills shortages identified by the Government, and thus eligible for the fast track work permit scheme, can be filled by British IT staff.

On the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) website, skills such as Java/Java Script, Perl/Perl Script, Active Server Pages/Active X, and XML/DHTML are listed as being in "particularly short supply" at present in the information technology, communication and electronics sectors. Also mentioned are Oracle, SQL Server, Visual Basic, Visual C++, Peoplesoft, all customer relationship management skills and computer telephony Integration packages such as Siebel.

It is primarily to gain these skills that the Government has radically revised its work permit process for qualified non-European Union workers over the past year.

But Mark I'Anson, commercial director of Computer People, notes that while demand for many of the DfEE-mentioned technologies is greater than supply in the UK at present, skills such as Oracle and Visual Basic can be found within the UK.

Computer Futures managing director John Pullan agrees. "There is no need for us to recruit abroad to find suitably qualified staff with Oracle skills, for example, " he says. "However, the majority of the skills mentioned above are definitely in short supply in the UK, particularly those that are Java related." Being emerging technologies, CRM and CTI packages are in demand around the world, adds Pullan, while SQL Server and Peoplesoft are needed to a lesser extent.

And while the Government continues to encourage tens of thousands of qualified non-EU workers to come to Britain, the latest Computer Weekly / SSP salary survey indicates that the number of jobs available in the industry overall is declining. According to industry analyst Nicholas Enticknap, the third quarter 2000 figure of 21,000 jobs advertised is the lowest level recorded since the beginning of 1994, and is 42 per cent down on the third quarter of 1999.

While the results are based on an analysis of print advertisements only, and do not include vacancies posted on the internet, Enticknap notes that web-based skills are the only ones showing "significant growth". Demand for commonplace client/server skills are declining by typically between 40 - 60 per cent, he adds: "This category includes C++, Oracle, Sybase, Visual Basic and Windows NT."

E-commerce minister Patricia Hewitt recently returned from an official visit to India to promote links between Indian and British business leaders, particularly in the IT sector. "India is set to become one of the largest and most exciting knowledge-driven economies of the 21st Century," she said.

Despite denials by the Department of Trade and Industry that Hewitt had gone to India on a recruitment drive for IT workers, she was quoted in a Reuters report as having asked Indian technology companies and professionals to choose to work in Britain rather than the US. "My message to India's ICE (information, communications, entertainment) companies is very simple. Think of us first."

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