DSS project looks abroad to overcome skills shortage

A desperate shortage of computer system testers is forcing recruitment agencies working on the multi-million pound Department of...

A desperate shortage of computer system testers is forcing recruitment agencies working on the multi-million pound Department of Social Security IT project to look abroad to make up the shortfall.

The recruitment company Computer Consultants has confirmed that the lack of system testers in the UK has forced it to look to Australia, the US and South Africa to meet the requirements of the DSS IT project.

Computer Consultants has been offering £30 to £40 an hour to attract system testers qualified in IBM Mainframe, CICS, COBOL, DB2 and MVS Essential.

The testers are required on sites at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Cranford, Middlesex, for the latest stage of the DSS IT systems project.

The £2bn ten year project was won last year by the EDS-led Affinity consortium. Other companies in the consortium include IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Bruce Ritchie of Computer Consultants has found it almost impossible to find the 50 to 60 qualified testers required to complete the latest part of the project.

"These IBM skills are used in a number of places around the world but it would be easier to find ants teeth than find such people in England," said Ritchie.

Of the testing staff recruited so far 50% have come from Australia, 25% from the US and 25% from beyond the European Union.

Computer Consultants confirmed that the rates of pay are not good by world rates but people are prepared to come to England to work for the money.

"The level of expertise in the UK is not as wide as is the case in the US, Australia or South Africa," said Ritchie.

The long-term nature of the project - scheduled to last 10 years - is believed to be an attraction to those coming from overseas with a view to working in the UK for an extended period.

Another recruitment consultant said that there was a shortage of the skills required for the contract in the UK because workers have moved on. "They need old skills," the consultant said. "In the UK people that had these skills have now moved on to Java or C++ where they can earn more money. It is not that the skills were never here; rather people with those skills used their Y2K bonuses to retrain," he added.

EDS, which subcontracts large parts of the project, denied that it was recruiting anyone on the DSS account.

Paul Donovan

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