Kathryn Cave (Global) - IT skills, part 1 - 'talentism'

The global IT skills landscape is uneven and in need of overhauling. Kathryn Cave, Editor at IDG Connect, starts her 4 part series on IT skills with a look at 'talentism'.

To accompany our special report on ‘The Global IT Skills Landscape, Summer 2011' IDG Connect has created a four-part series on IT skills, which will be published every Thursday until 15th September. Part one looks at the crisis as a whole, and discusses the role of ‘talentism'.

At one infamous Royal Academy dinner in 1949, Sir Alfred Munnings delivered his presidential speech as a drunken rant on the awfulness of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. His audience applauded loudly. This lack of foresight has since gone on to tarnish Munnings' astonishing career, and just goes to show that the idea of talent is purely subjective.

Yet differing notions of talent are still very relevant; they have serious implications for the wider job market and our entire future workforce. Ingrained notions of talent affect how people train, the jobs they choose to do, and the way they approach their work. This is driven by the employers' ideas of talent, the skills they seek out and reward, and the way workers are moulded throughout their careers.

A recent Manpower Group survey showed that 34% of employers worldwide are currently having trouble filling key positions. This is because they simply can't find the right people. In the report produced to demonstrate the findings, Manpower Group describes how "Talent is replacing capital as the key competitive differentiator", and how "as talentism becomes the new capitalism, human potential will be the catalyst for change and the major agent of economic growth."

Some estimates suggest that in the US alone there are about 400,000 IT jobs available because employers can't find people with the right skills. In a statement issued at the end of July, Capgemini Australia warned the Joint Standing Committee on the NBN that the IT skills shortage could be so severe that the only option for businesses will be offshore sourcing. In the UK, a recent Apsco survey revealed that as businesses begin to re-invest in IT, the demand for these professionals has sky-rocketed. What is more, UK government findings showed that in May this year, job vacancies for IT professionals were 28% higher than in May last year; compared to a 13% increase in job vacancies across the whole UK economy.

Yet our recent global survey of over 3,000 IT and business professionals appeared to paint a different picture. When we asked ‘How many IT vacancies do you estimate there are in your region at present?' we found North Americans to be most pessimistic about the job market. In this region 43% stated there were very few vacancies at present, compared to 21% of Asians and 24% of Australians. How does this tally with the apparent volume of jobs waiting to be filled in the US? The truth is the global IT landscape is varied and diverse; many problems are down to job specialism, area and types of vacancies available. But surely in part, it must also relate to the concept of talent. While there are not an excessive number of vacancies, the most sought after skills are still not available.

Does this tell us something about the IT skills that are currently fostered? When we posed the question, ‘In your opinion where is the greatest level of IT need in your country?' the overwhelming response - without exception, across all continents - was senior technical skills. This conflict was also reflected in the comments. One Indian business manager said employment issues in his area stemmed from a "Lack of soft skills versus technical skills"; while another IT systems manger in the United States described "a disconnect between IT and business that lowers the value of IT professionals".

The future of the IT profession is down to the type of people it attracts; people who will push the industry forward both from a business and technical perspective. Over the next three weeks, I will be covering the IT skills landscape through training the best IT professionals, the difficulties of generation Y and the future of the IT workforce.

Next Thursday: IT skills, part 2 - training
Thursday 8th September: IT skills, part 3 - generation Y
Thursday 15th September: IT skills, part 4 - the future

Tell us what you think: either pop your comment below, or if you prefer, drop me an email at Kathryn_cave@idg.com Kathryn Cave is editor of IDG Connect International.