E-business boom set to deepen skills crisis

A long-term view can help avert an IT skills crisis.

A long-term view can help avert an IT skills crisis.

If you think the skills shortage is bad now, just wait until the e-business boom takes off in Europe.

An IDC report last week suggested that there will be a 30% shortfall in Web-related network skills and a 17% shortage of IT professionals with business skills.

Later this month, a skills summit of the great and the good in Lisbon will consider a familiar list of solutions - tax breaks for training, removing the barriers to women and older people, and improving the image of IT.

But organisations do not address the general skills crisis - they address their own skills crisis. That inevitably leads to short-term solutions like poaching, salary hikes and the use of training packages as "golden handcuffs".

There is no shortage of quangos dedicated to solving the IT skills crisis, nor is there a shortage of will. But the crucial action must come from IT user organisations themselves.

The regular wish-lists on training, public perception and access for women and older people should become action points on IT managers' agenda now.

Pro-activity is the key. You've been warned that the crisis is coming. You know which part of your IT operation it will hit worst.

IT decision-makers need to make sure that firms' general HR policies do not conflict with the specific needs to recruit and retain the right people in IT. An IT department frenetically reacting to skills shortages is one of the worst places to work. A department where there is a "glass ceiling" for women and ethnic minorities will not retain the best people.

As IT goes further and further into the heart of business, departments that cannot address the skills crisis will damage the business itself.

There is no single off-the-peg solution. But to tell yourself there is no solution to the skills crisis - other than the aggressive, short-term solutions that plugged the gaps before Y2K - is to court disaster.

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