07 June 2007

Employers failing to train underskilled IT workers

This story in Computerworld (NZ) caught my eye. It's about IT professionals in the UK, but it certainly conforms to my experience in the USA.

Learning and skills council E-Skills UK figures show that skills shortages among companies that are recruiting IT staff are at a two-year low of 6%. But the same proportion of employers also reported skills gaps among their existing professional IT staff in the last quarter of 2006, the latest issue of E-Skills UK's ICT Inquiry report says. The gaps centre on business-related and other nontechnical skills, "which implies that employers are taking on sub-skilled staff and doing little to up skill them following their recruitment", the report warns.

[See footnote below for info on skills shortage measuring—JRM]

Please note information on skills shortages come from employer surveys; there's no customer satisfaction survey I'm aware of to measure skills among service populations.

The Register, an UK-based publication, reports that the main problem is skills levels among senior government officials in IT functions, rather the opposite of the generalization in Computerworld. But a further examination reveals the connection: IT recruiters tend to hire experienced staff, but that staff has few business skills. On the other hand, civil servants in the increasingly IT-intensive British government tend to lack understanding of technology issues. In the reports cited by both articles, a "gap" is much-noted, rather like a communications crevasse between business management and IT professionals.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of skills shortages (and measuring them numerically), I recommend a visit to the website of National Statistics (UK). There one may find "Skills shortages" (PDF), by Mari Lind Frogner (2002).
The Employers Skill Survey (ESS) provides two definitions of lack of skills. The first is skills shortages, defined as recruitment difficulties caused specifically by a shortage of individuals with the required skills in the accessible labour market. Alternatively, there are skill gaps which are deficiencies in the skills of an employer’s existing workforce, both at the individual level and overall, which prevent the firm from achieving its business objectives. Skill gaps can be defined in two ways: a broad definition includes all establishments that reported that at least some of their staff lacked full proficiency; a narrow measure includes only those establishments where a significant proportion of the workforce was reported lacking full proficiency.
[Emphasis added—JRM]
The skills shortage is sort of like a reverse-unemployment statistic; it reflects a shortage of available employees owing to inadequate skills. Usually it is expressed as a number of employees desired, but unavailable. When it is expressed as a percentage, it is the shortage divided by employment in that sector.



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