Exploding the myth of the UK ‘skills gap’

02 Mar 2012

Your article about the skills gap is somewhat adrift from reality (Is the UK heading for another tech skills crisis?). The skills gap seems to be mythical, or at least artificial. As a recruiter I have not had any trouble finding good applicants for developer jobs.

The article also says that there are more senior jobs than applicants; in fact for any senior role there are likely to be several hundred applicants. Typically there are 300 applicants for every IT manager position and that has been so for at least the past 10 years, barring a brief excursion to 500-plus in 2001.

A lot of the key IT skills are vested in people who got fed up and decided that driving minicabs was better money for less stress. Next time you take a minicab, particularly in the south-west, ask your driver what they did before. You might then ask why so many people with sufficient commercial skills to become self-employed have all left IT.

The principal reason is that employers do not recruit people with business skills if those skills are on their CV. Those skills dilute the technology buzzwords that an agency needs to search for when they have 300-plus applicants for each job. If industry wants these skills it needs to take active steps to find the people who have them and then endeavour to keep them.

My advice to companies looking to recruit is to go easy on the mushroom management: your IT manager should be the first person you discuss strategic initiatives with. They budget today for the systems to buy next year to enable the bold initiatives that the consultants will sell you in five years’ time. 

The helpdesk knows more about how the business really works than the CEO does: tap that knowledge. Change your recruitment policies: insist on a much higher level of computer literacy in every management or potential management role: the poor technology knowledge of your middle-managers is a drag on your operational efficiency and agility. The poor technology knowledge in the boardroom is a drag on strategic agility: adapt or die.

Bernard Peek

blog comments powered by Disqus

Reader comments

Time to wake up and smell the coffee

I have long held the [personal] view that the UK is more than self-sufficient in technology skills. The so-called 'skills gap' is generally to be found between supply and demand, i.e. the disconnect between skills holders and those who need the skills.

In days gone by this gap was undoubtedly the basis for a very vibrant contract market. Since then, however, the skills base has grown substantially - therefore increasing the pool of available and highly-skilled people.

The paradox is that we often hear of a skills gap, in parallel with tales of highly-skilled people leaving the industry. I have also heard many 'leavers' cite frustration with the recruitment processes, feeling poorly served by agencies who don't have the skills themselves to assess candidates properly.

Generally speaking the agencies, in defence of their short-listing processes, cite overwhelming responses to advertised posts. Which seems to re-inforce my perception that the UK does not have an IT skills gap.

My challenge to the IT recruitment process (employers and intermediaries) is to devise ways of working (particularly selection) that genuinely serve both clients and candidates.

Despite the broad application of IT to dis-intermediation of other business processes, we don't yet seem to have come up with an effective application in the area of IT recruitment.

Posted by: Colin Beveridge  03 Mar 2012