How can there still be a technical skills gap in 2013?


16-01-2013

Why is there a lack of candidates for jobs with technical skills? asks Andy Kennedy, Managing Director of Tier 2 Consulting.

Back in 2008 we saw the world hit with the worst economic crisis in living memory. Four years on and we are all still experiencing heavy austerity measures and one of the most severe recessions to date. According to the Office for National Statistics, levels of unemployment stood at 7.8% in September 2012 and an analysis by the IPPR (the Institute of Public Policy Research) confirmed that unemployment could rise by a further 200,000 in 2013.

It’s very easy for us to point the finger at the economy as the fundamental reason that so many people are struggling to find employment. However, I am not convinced that the economy alone is the sole reason that we have so many people unemployed in this country. At my company – a web application development specialist based in Stevenage, Herts - we have had two job vacancies open for many months. Although we have received a number of applicants from the UK, the majority of responses have been from abroad – and while sometimes resumes look great on paper, on further examination we have found that not one single candidate has matched the job specifications.

We have been marketing one particular vacancy on a number of online recruitment websites, across different media outlets, and through recruitment agencies, since April of last year but we’ve found it a real challenge to find someone with the necessary combined technical and personal skills to join the team. Strong communication skills are vitally important for us as a business, as the majority of our staff need to be client-facing and required to build up strong relationships with our customers,  explaining complicated systems and sorting out difficult technical issues

I suppose it’s fair to say that working for a software consultancy is a specialist and technical job, and that being based 30 miles from London means we compete for IT talent with the city firms paying the ‘big bucks’.  But even taking this into account, it has become increasing evident to me that in the United Kingdom we simply don’t seem to be producing enough candidates of the right stature.  As a business owner I need to understand why this is, and find ways to address the problem as it is inhibiting our growth.

It doesn’t appear to be just me and my team that have noticed this huge technical skills gap either. I have seen a wealth of media coverage on the lack of skills from software developers - for instance, an ICT enquiry from e-skills  recently revealed that almost half (40%) of graduates do not have the level of IT, business and communication skills to meet company requirements. To back this up, Claire McCartney, resourcing adviser at the CIPD (the Charted Institution of Development and Personnel) stated that there was a clear “mismatch” between the skills of the typical graduate and the skills in which the industry needs to operate successfully and from my experiences I have to agree with her.

In addition, IT recruitment specialist, Modis International, found that more than a quarter (27%) of IT recruiters are struggling to identify candidates of the right quality. This figure rises to a staggering 44% for the larger corporates.

In 2012, Tier 2 Consulting celebrated our 10th anniversary. To have reached such a milestone in turbulent economic times, and be in a position that we are able to grow, is testament to the skill, commitment, loyalty and customer-first attitude of the team we have in place as we move into 2013.  This is a solid basis from which to grow, though doesn’t really help me when looking to hire new talent.

It would be wonderful if the government could wave a wand, and increase the supply of talented IT staff overnight - but sadly this is not going to happen, and any initiatives that may be introduced could take years to come to fruition.  So I need to find ways to bring the right profile of candidate into Tier 2 in the short-medium term – and competing with the bright lights of the city by offering ‘over the odds’ salaries is not the way to build a sustainable services business.   So key to our recruitment approach from now is the sponsorship of our local University’s coding course - I want us to help local graduates acquire the necessary skills and develop into employees which can help our business grow for a further ten years.

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