Talent gap or prospect? Exploitative headlines or real concern?

The IT sector now crosses more skill sets than it historically recognised (to encompass fields such as Telecoms), and experiences countless and previously unexperienced problems than a more traditional slower paced arena. It is at first glance difficult to narrow down where the issues lie, and indeed if there is a real skills crisis or merely an opportunity for intelligent, career driven individuals to step up.

Statistically the digital market place accounts for an astonishing 8.3% share of the GBP.

And looking to the future, if you have a technical qualification, you are more likely to be employed as well as likely to earn more than your colleagues lacking these qualifications. It is projected that STEM jobs (and whilst obviously this includes more than just technology roles), will increase byaround 17% over the next 10 years, compared to a 10% growth of non-STEM jobs, suggesting more jobs will require an increased level of technical knowledge.

Unlike in any time or industry that has gone before, the technologies within the IT industry evolve at such a pace that its own success could be feeding the beast. Some would argue that students are coming out of their graduate courses already ill qualified to bridge the gap between education and the real world, as their courses may have given them a foundation of skills that have already been superseded.

And with the ramifications of the recession still being felt, amidst claims of an economic recovery,  this new found confidence cannot overlook the fact that statistical research shows that an IT professional demanding a c. £38k salary in the city at the start of 2013, can now look to earn c. £48k a mere 12 months on. These positions are being filled, these companies that pay the extra are not crying of a skills shortage. Which begs the question is it only the companies who are not in a position to offer the higher salaries that are experiencing a skill shortage? Are potential candidates expecting more than is feasible given the recent recession? We only have to browse the internet, or pick up a journal to read about the financial glory being regaled upon technical whizz kids. Is this diverting us from the realities of the market place?

But the cycle continues. Organisations continue to miss the fresh opportunities that are arising post-recession as they simply do not have the capacity or capital. It has been quoted that as many as 77% of organisations say they would be able to grow faster if they could source employees with the skill sets they desperately need. So is this skill set shortage also debilitating the UK’s overall recovery from the recession?

Or, given the right advice from professional recruiters, who truly understand the gluts and spaces within the market place, as well as their very real financial worth, is the result not an organisation with a full complement of highly skilled contractors earning an above average salary?

So what’s in demand and what’s falling? This is such a capricious question, one man’s experience it would seem, is very different to another’s. As a recruiter for niche IT contractors, our experience is in the first instance that it depends on whether the role is to be filled by a contract or permanent employee.

But as an overview it is safe to conclude that the main staples of the industry will remain as Windows, SQL, .Net, C#, Java, Oracle JavaScript and HTML, Ruby on Rails, with technologies such as CSS3 and HTML remaining a constant.

But one of the largest areas of growth has been seen in the big data arena, where it is estimated to have grown by as much as 43%, which brings into play Oracle, noSQL, Linux, MySQL, Hadoop, Unix Python and SQL Server.

Skills based around the Windows Azure and Amazon Web Service are increasingly in demand, as are RESTful, MongoDB, Microsoft certified IT professionals

In a twist though, there is it would appear an unwelcome divide developing between the senior programmers / developers and the newly qualified, and although arguably there are certain technologies such as Flash that are fast becoming legacy applications, it does none the less present a gap in experience between the backbone of the industry and the new generations. In this instance they may be moving faster than the technologies and infrastructures they support, and which are not yet obsolete.

But whilst in the EU and more specifically the UK, it is supposed we are struggling to fill IT contracts, there is a surplus of these skill sets elsewhere in the world, where governments have invested heavily in encouraging a strong base in STEM education. Is this not an obvious avenue to explore, if not the avenue, given the immediate impact could enrich the talent pool in the UK?

But with the evolving cloud technologies and advancements in video technologies can these resources not be tapped into remotely?

Additionally this could also bring in a fresh supply of workers who are trying to establish a work life balance whilst raising young families. This is an untapped resource who could be lured back in with the promise of the ability to work remotely, thus allowing more flexibility, and therefore providing an influx of skilled workers at an agreeable salary for both parties.

Or can we adopt a re-modelled approach to the education of these immerging technologies? One such organisation, who has received backing from the government as well as financial support from the UKTI is The General Assembly, which has recently opened its second flagship facility here in London. Its approach is a perhaps sometimes costly, but concise and timely approach to teaching these immerging skills and supporting their pupils into the real world with currently commanded skills. The courses they are running, which are in partnership with some of the biggest names in the industry, could provide a model that will see the balance redressed, and the support of the government would surely purport to the fact that they too are now beginning to see that there is a need for change in the way we educate the future talent pool.

The balance certainly needs to be handled, if not for right now, certainly for the future, and it seems to be gaining great support from within the confines of its own, with organisations like BIMA tackling it at school age.

So is there a skill shortage? Perhaps this is the wrong question, conceivably the questions people should be considering are about how we address this going forward, where undoubtedly there will be a problem if we don’t act now.  It is perhaps at the moment a rhetorical debate. But this is only one view, what’s yours?

Chris Parsons