Business Management

Kathryn Cave (Global) - Is the Skills Shortage a Pack of Lies?

Our recent article on IT skills and career development generated some extremely aerated responses from readers. Many were convinced the skills shortage is an epic pack of lies, whilst a straw poll on our site showed 40% do not think there are enough opportunities to develop tomorrow's CIO. The picture painted by some, at least, was a truly damning indictment of modern business and career development. Does this tally with your experiences?

Employment and a regular salary are so important to anyone that has to earn a living that relevant "skills" quickly become an extremely emotive subject. The reaction to an article we published a couple of weeks back on the IT skills shortage and lack of opportunities to development into senior positions certainly proved this to be all too correct. Responses included a plethora of comments on the site itself, a series of emails, along with heated debate across the social stratosphere.

Opinion was sharply divided between those who were angry at the suggestion there was a skills shortage at all, and those who highlighted specific issues. A straw poll we ran to global audience also seemed to prove that the majority - by a small margin (40%) - believe there are not enough opportunities to develop tomorrow's CIO. The remainder were split equally (30% each way) between believing opportunities are available, and not being sure, which suggests a lack of clarity if nothing else.

What was really striking though was the intensity of feeling from those people who did not agree there was a shortage. One individual sent me a personal note which began: "Why is this skills shortage tripe still propagated? You are an industry hack. How about we hire trade editors out of India and the Philippines at unliveable wages?" Whilst another person posted a comment on the website under the headline "Yet Another Misinformed Management Article" in which he illustrated his point via his personal experiences.

The most fervent directed my attention to: "Why Good People Can't Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It" a book by Peter Cappelli, which itself has generated some pretty heartfelt commentary across the web. Jennifer Blake of the World Economic Forum summarised: ""Peter Cappelli's new book addresses one of today's major conundrums: why do so many jobs in America remain unfilled in the face of persistently high unemployment? With so many concerned observers looking to the government to solve the jobs crisis, Cappelli's book is a refreshing and highly readable treatise on the roles and responsibilities of the private sector in matching job seekers to jobs."

There are clearly two things going on here; firstly, the skills required to obtain a role, secondly, the opportunities needed to progress a career. However, I can't help feeling that a big part of the problem is that whichever way you look at it there will always be fewer well paid opportunities than people who want to fill them. There can only be one CIO for every 100+ other positions. Organisational structures are by nature a pyramid and once you've progressed through one level, (first there are 2,000 applicants for every job, then there are 50 people up ahead of you for every promotion), there is always a new hurdle.

However, the current economic climate makes this incredibly difficult to deal with on a personal level. This is because affording any kind of standard of life can seem virtually impossible in many western cities. In London alone, the average salary is £33,660 whilst the average cost of a one bedroom house is £289,114 nearly 12 times that; the average rent for the same is nearly £400 per week (£20,800 per year) and commuter costs sit somewhere in the region of £200 per month. The difficulty of acquiring preferred skills in order to earn a normal living can prove nigh on impossible. To prove this, the Guardian reported recently that in some parts of the UK as many as 60% of 20 -34 year olds still live at home because they can't afford to move out.

Fundamentally, the difficulty with any talk of a skills shortage seems to boil down to perspective. Ask a hiring manager if they have trouble finding staff they will most likely answer "yes". Ask a candidate if they have difficulties finding jobs, chances are they will answer "yes". What do you think the reason for this is? Does it ultimately come down to the fallacies of human nature (hiring managers who select staff often don't choose the salary bracket)? Or is it because penny-pinching organisations want to make people work for lower wages?

By Kathryn Cave, Editor, IDG Connect



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