Retrain staff to beat economic downturn

Fears of a global downturn mean IT chiefs have to reassess their strategy

Fears of a global downturn mean IT chiefs have to reassess their strategy

IT chiefs should prepare for an economic downturn by ensuring that programmes are in place to retrain their existing IT staff, training experts have advised.

With recruitment freezes likely, IT directors should look at how they can redeploy existing IT staff for new roles, rather than turning to the jobs market.

"Basically, employers will not be looking to recruit new entrants for high-level jobs," said Philip Virgo, strategic advisor at the Institute for the Management of Information Systems. "The issue for employers is retraining those already in the industry."

Despite the large-scale job cuts announced in recent weeks by high-tech employers such as Philips and Motorola, IT skills will continue to be in short supply.

"Almost by definition demand will outstrip supply because of the pace of change of technology. There will always be a mismatch between what people need and what they have got," said Anthony Miller, analyst at Ovum Holway.

As a result, IT employers will face the prospect of having to lay off some staff while advertising for others. This will lead to increasing pressure on employers to cross-train existing staff.

Recruitment company MSB said there has been an increase in the number of employers prepared to take staff with IT skills and cross-train them over the past year, although numbers are still small.

"For example, if companies are looking for someone with expertise in SAP and find someone with expertise in PeopleSoft, they are prepared to retrain," said Bethany-Kate Parry, MSB's permanent business manager.

The Manufacturing Science Finance (MSF) union is pressing employers and the Government to create a mechanism for matching the people laid-off in one part of the IT profession with shortages in other areas.

"There is a lack of an IT sector mechanism that could help people lost in one IT company to move into other sectors," said MSForganiser Peter Skyte.

Shortages of IT staff with Web skills are beginning to decline, following layoffs among dotcom companies, according to analyst group Ovum Holway.

"You should not have too much of a problem hiring a Web designer or an architect. I would expect to see skills shortages in those areas to be seriously reduced and salaries to be stabilised," said analyst Anthony Miller.

But core legacy skills, such as high-end database skills could be harder to find. "The majority of existing applications still depends on skills in the legacy areas. I would be surprised if core legacy skills are being let go," said Miller.

Bill Goodwin

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