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What skills shortage?

What skills shortage?

We keep hearing about the skills shortage in IT in this country. A lot of the justification for work being outsourced and offshored, for example, is justified on the grounds that the clients can’t find the people they need in the UK, so simply have to go elsewhere for them. And as I predicted some time ago, the level of work being offshored is creeping up, not only in numbers of jobs but in the seniority as well. Helpdesks have long gone, as have standard coding roles. Now we’re seeing DBA, BA and PM work going the same way.

So why are one in six of our UK resident IT graduates out of work then? I think there may be two things at work here (unlike those graduates…)

Firstly the reason is not a lack of skills; it’s a lack of money. And, to a lesser extent, a lack of vision.

We cannot possibly have that many qualified people out of work because they can’t do the job. Also, of course, the public sector has been shedding staff at an ever-increasing rate, so the pool of experienced people is steadily growing. Finally there is a still a high number of experienced freelance IT people out there who haven’t worked for many months.

As always, the client is looking to take money off the bottom line. Outsourcing is a very good way to do this, so having made the decision to outsource a key business function – in itself a dubious and very short-term move, may I add – they look for the cheapest option. That will not be the UK-based workforce who, oddly enough, prefers to charge a living wage for their work, but an offshore operation with a much lower labour rate. QED.

Except they aren’t actually cheaper, when measured over a year or two. OK, I speak only from personal experience and some apocryphal tales from co-workers, but the story is quite consistent. Firstly what you get is not what you wanted, at least not the first time round. A huge amount has to go back to be re-worked. Plus there is often a habit of not correcting the faulty code, but re-writing it. It may be more accurate but it is also a lot slower. Then, when it does work, trivia like in-line comments, error-handling and security controls are often below par, so if a problem does occur the recovery is more complex than you may realise..

So by the time you get a robust working product you have spent a large chunk of the money you were hoping to save. This is a bit of a shame. I mean, it’s almost like the business driver for the outsourcing company is to maximise their revenue, not service the client’s requirements. Surely not.

The other reason is the one I mentioned last week. If you only look inside your own industry for staff, regardless of how relevant that industry experience is to the job in hand, then obviously you will be looking at a much smaller pool of candidates. Even within apparent monoliths such as banking, you get the same apartheid; you may have five years in Investment Banking but we deal with Derivatives so sorry, you’re simply not qualified.

So combine the two and the much heralded but completely mythical UK Skills Shortage is actually a self-inflicted wound. And not only self-inflicted but self-perpetuating, since we don’t have the people coming in at the bottom to fill these roles who, in five to ten years, would be the ones in the middle management positions making it work. Damn, we’ll have to outsource them as well…

So clearly there is a skills shortage. Sadly it lies not with the workers, but with the management.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited<

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