According to KPMG, contrary to popular belief, the world is now actually facing up to a shortage of people with the ICT (Information, Communication and Technology) skills required by modern businesses, which is shaping up to be a major headache for businesses across the globe.
These are strange times for the IT sector. The ICT skills which its people boast are in constant demand. Vast IT workforces sit in regional skill centre hubs around the world. At the same time, the demand for skilled IT people ‘on the ground’ has seen huge recruitment surges in numerous countries. Behind all this though, there lurks the growing suspicion that a very real skills shortage may be starting to open up.
According to Edge Zarrella, Global Head of IT Advisory Services at KPMG, “Rapid globalisation has heightened the need for specialists who can work with, and connect, any number of different systems globally. The flow of mathematics, engineering and computer science graduates into the sector has started to slow down. And people who had left the sector are having to be tempted back into employment to work on the older systems which newer graduates are not being taught how to use.”
“Unless all relevant parties come together to address this looming skills shortage, I believe that the industry could have a significant problem on its hands over the next few years. This is no trifling HR issue; this is a very real Board level concern which should be acted on now.”
Frank Rizzo, managing partner of IT Advisory at KPMG South Africa agrees. “Locally I believe there is increasing concern around the diminished interest shown by prospective graduates entering the ICT market. We certainly hope that this sentiment will be curbed, especially if we consider the stated intent of the South African Government to invest in the local ICT sector as well as private sector demand for specialised skills, as over the next few years demand for the right skills set will increase.”
The reduction in the inflow of graduates into the industry is a worrying development. While the IT industry may have had its peak – in terms of career attractiveness - at the turn of the century when thousands of young graduates poured into the industry as the millennium bug and the dot com boom made ICT skills attractive – and profitable, several years on the industry may be paying for that peak as many of the ICT skills which it made popular now appear commoditised. Zarrella continues; “I’d suggest that many parents in mature economies may even be counseling their children against a career in the industry because the profession appears so commoditised; thousands of people with the same skills and with the constant threat of offshoring hanging over their heads.”
This is misleading. While the perception may be of a commoditised industry, the reality is far from it. While certainly the more straightforward, back office ICT skills are being outsourced and offshored on a regular basis, the front end, high value skills such as systems architecture are not. These are the skills which are increasingly in demand yet they are tarred with the same “commoditised” brush. The net result is a generation of graduates left unconvinced that ICT is for them; at a time when the industry is crying out for their abilities. Yet for those people able to offer high level, strategic advice and exhibit the combination of business and ICT skills now required, premium salaries are on offer – however, is this message getting through?
If the industry is worried about people coming in, then it is becoming just as concerned about the people leaving. The skill base which those people represent is not being replaced. However, the IT systems which they trained with remain in place – but with an ever dwindling pool of professionals able to work with them.
“Progress and technology wait for no man and I see a very real explosion in the new kinds of ICT skills required as businesses embrace yet more new technologies,” says Rizzo. “The lucky few who have those high-end skills may find themselves very much in demand locally and around the world. All relevant bodies – companies, trade associations, governments etc – to come together and address this skills issue. Together, they should be actively lobbying to get more young people into the industry. Otherwise, all IT users face a double whammy – having insufficient people with tomorrow’s ICT skills coming into the industry while other vital skills are lost as older employees leave the workforce.”
Boards which promptly take the initiative in this area may be able to benefit from an aggressive talent management program which adds real value to their business. “Whatever happens though, after several years of feeling like we were on ‘easy street’ with so many people desperate to come and work in the industry, it’s time for an urgent reassessment of where we stand,” concludes Zarrella.