IT employers need to grow their own skills to stave off shortages

Vacancies for skilled and experienced IT staff have more than doubled over the past 12 months and for most skills they are back...

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Vacancies for skilled and experienced IT staff have more than doubled over the past 12 months and for most skills they are back to the levels of mid-2001. We are entering another skills crisis, but this time the shortage is of those with the abilities to design, deliver and support information systems that meet user needs.


The market has polarised. Salaries for programme managers, business analysts and those with the skills to apply IT to meet user needs and to secure value for money from suppliers are rising, often at well above the rate of inflation. Salaries for technical posts, of the type that could be outsourced overseas, are stagnant or falling.

But information systems engineering and management skills have been neglected since government support for systems analysis qualifications was switched to endorse a mix of IT literacy at the bottom end and computer science at the top.

Fifty years on we are seeing the wheel turn full circle with courses like the mathematics, operation research, statistics and economics degree at Warwick University and degrees mixing business studies and computer skills supported by E-Skills UK. Even government policy is beginning to change, with recent statements on government support, albeit still very limited, for NVQ3 technicians training.  

We will not, however, see the first graduates from the new courses much before 2010. 

In the meantime, there are not enough skilled and experienced project and programme managers to deliver the planned systems for the NHS, let alone ID cards and e-government.  

No wonder we have problems with the delivery of large public-sector systems. Meanwhile, the private sector has scaled down its ambitions and accounts for less than 40% of the large procurements under way or in prospect. 

The development of the necessary skills takes a mix of training and experience. It needs IT professionals with experience of end-to-end responsibility, from inception to post implementation review, for small projects, not just for parts of large ones.

The shortage is going to become very much worse unless and until many more employers "grow their own" experienced IT professionals. Employers need to ensure that the skills of their staff are maintained and their services retained.

IT professional association the Institute for the Management of Information Systems (Imis) is calling for income tax and national insurance allowances for those undergoing training to professional standards, including those paying for themselves. The allowances should enable all people to offset the full costs of their course against tax.

However, market research indicates that 70% of CVs contain "significant exaggerations" and about 30% "go well beyond mere self-delusion".

Imis is therefore also exploring the practicality of bringing workforce, graduate and professional update programmes into common frameworks, with validation routines akin to those used by credit reference agencies. 

This exercise appears to have struck a chord with those accustomed to using operations such as Experian's Candidate Verifier to screen applicants or to employ organisations such as Control Risks to vet those shortlisted for roles with access to sensitive systems.

The proviso is that any service should be genuinely international, like the market for high-level IT skills.

Philip Virgo is strategic advisor to the Institute for the Management of Information Systems

Anyone interested in helping to fund and resource the development of skills services or who would like to be contacted by consultants doing a feasibility study for Imis should e-mail Philip Virgo via [email protected] 

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