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NEWS ANALYSIS - Staffing: it's a war

NEWS ANALYSIS - Staffing: it's a war

Keeping staff, finding staff, skills shortages, higher salaries - welcome to the IT employment scene for the forseeable future

on’t take your staff for granted – that’s the message from IT employment industry experts.

When asked by ARN to take a look at the next 12 months, they predicted further skilled staff shortages, problems in retaining skilled staff, wage demands and a trend in ICT professionals towards changing jobs.

The skills shortage has already hit the Australian IT industry, especially in high demand opportunities such as online tools, collaboration, business analysis, project management and technology areas such as cloud computing, virtualisation and networking.

Paradoxically, recruitment firm, Manpower, claimed 26 per cent of employers expect to increase headcount during Q3, 2011. This despite the apparent shortage of staff. Just nine per cent expect a reduction in headcount. The difficulty in gaining skilled staff is holding back projects, Manpower Group managing director, Australia and New Zealand, Lincoln Crawley, said.

“If Governments and individuals don’t take action it’s just going to get worse,” Crawley said.

In the meantime local skilled resources are being developed through training. Additionally, changes to the 457 Visa, such as an age limit increase for unsponsored applications from 45 to 50, recognising degrees from reputed colleges and universities outside Australia, and the implementation of a pre-registration plan, were welcomed as a positive step by Crawley. However, he also suggested that more could be done.

Internally, retention of skilled staff will be another problem that organisations face moving forward. The demand for skills is pushing the balance of power towards the individual. And this is leading towards a more fluid workforce.

A survey by the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists & Managers (APESMA) found that 58 per cent of ICT professionals are looking to change jobs in the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) National Salary Survey found that workers in IT are currently gaining pay increases at a larger rate than the national average.

It’s making staff retention a challenge, according to Crawley, who said while organisations are making new jobs for contract work, they are simply replacing full-time roles rather than increasing headcount.

“HR practitioners often struggle to get the executive attention to look to long-term workforce planning,” Crawley said. “Recruitment is often too reactionary.”

Ovum analyst, Kevin Noonan, agrees. “Retention is a problem, and staff are tending to stay at an organisation for shorter periods of time,” he said. “Management needs to plan for the reality that there is going to be continuing volatility. There is not going to be a return to the good old days.”

This is not just a trend affecting Australia, but the broader South-East Asian region, Noonan said. It’s leading to a fundamental shift in the approach to training, with significant ramifications for the supply of experienced staff in IT in the future.

“Training tends to be focused on immediate needs,” Noonan said. “It means that practical experience is becoming a problem.”

Currently, individuals are more interested in working on specific projects then moving through a hierarchy. In nations with large sovereign debt problems, such as the US, UK and Japan, jobs are harder to come by, and people are less likely to want to leave.

Training opportunities

Despite this shift in focus, the training market itself remains strong. Dimension Data Learning Solutions, recently renamed to DDLS, still sees 95 per cent of training arranged by organisations.

However, there are a rising number of individuals looking to fill gaps in their own knowledge, DDLS marketing and alliances manager, Michelle Dowling, said. In this sense individuals are taking it on themselves to develop the long-term skills that many employers are no longer keen to invest in.

“There’s increasing interest in improving skills on the application level; the development skills,” Dowling said.

DDLS currently runs a course in Apple iOS development, but is also considering adding Android and Windows Phone strands.

The industry push to the Cloud and away from customer-hosted IT infrastructure means that organisations are also finding it useful to train staff in other, non-technical fields as well.

“We see a lot of interest in training around the transition to the cloud,” Cisco director of public sector, Ken Boal, said.

Boal also heads up the vendor’s Network Academy – a program that currently has 20,000 students enrolled, and has graduated 94,000 to date.

“The demand for soft skills, sales and leadership are on the increase. It’s no longer about what you sell as how you sell it.”

There is opportunity for organisations willing to invest in a longer-term strategy. Staff retention strategies can involve allowing more flexible working conditions – a current popular perk. But Manpower’s Crawley warns not to ignore the potential value training can bring an organisation’s competitive advantage.

“Employers need to measure engagement now more than ever,” Crawley said. “A proactive approach to training helps an organisation compete when recruiting new staff.


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Tags skills shortagetrainingovumstaffingManpower GroupAssociation of Professional EngineersAustralian Institute of Management (AIM).employmentScientists & Managers (APESMA)Dimension Data Leaning Solutions

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