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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Is there really a shortage in available, correctly qualified personnel for ICT companies? Or is the industry suffering from the consequences of outsourcing, as well as maintaining unrealistic demands with respect to their new employees?!

For me as a (formerly) freelancing worker in the ICT industry, there was a quite interesting news message in Het Financieele Dagblad this week.

From research carried out by the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics it was disclosed that there allegedly is a shortage of roughly 17% in qualified ICT personnel among large employers and principals with an interest in ICT. 

These are companies and institutions like ICT employers, central and local governments and governmental organizations, large banks and insurance companies and other large commercial parties, with an vital ICT component in their line of business.

The following snippets were printed in Het Financieele Dagblad:

Entrepreneurs are more and more hampered by the mounting shortage in qualified personnel. In the ICT industry this shortage amounts to 17%, according to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics.

Roughly 7% of the entrepreneurs states that the shortage in qualified personnel offers difficulties in the daily conduct of business. This number was not that high since 2009. In the commercial business industry 11% of the employers sees this shortage as an obstacle for further growth, while in the Transport and Storage industry 7% of the companies experience such a shortage.

When this research is true and objective indeed, it would mean that it is not possible to fill in roughly one in five ICT jobs, due to a lack of qualified personnel. That is an alarming number indeed, but is it true?! 

If have my doubts personally, based upon my own experiences of these last months and (even) years, since the crisis started in 2008.

As many of my readers know, my official profession is that of a senior software testing professional with 18 years of experience in this industry. Especially the last two years I have been in the situation too often, that I was looking for a new assignment as software tester at the government, the financial industry or other commercial parties.

When I compare the current situation with the situation in 1999 when there REALLY was a shortage in the ICT industry, under influence of the dot-com bubble, these situations are almost diametrically opposite.

In 1999 I received three salary increases in one year myself. Everybody and their sister, who were able to write two flawless lines of computer code in a row, were hired for a future in the ICT industry. Lab assistents, biologists, mathematicians, physicians, teachers and many other professions were lured into a job as programmer, software tester or project manager, with skyhigh salaries, fancy leasecars and other perks, as demand required that. That was a shortage!

Looking at things now, it is a whole different ball-game.

Countless ICT jobs have been outsourced to Eastern Europe, India and other low-wage countries, where whole ‘software factories’ have emerged that mass-produce billions of lines of code for especially large customers of ICT services in Europe and the United States. At the same time the Dutch market has been ‘flooded’ with numerous knowledge workers from these same countries, who chose for a more prosperous future in The Netherlands.

Salaries and fees in the ICT industry, especially for the more common programming, analysis and testing jobs and commonly used tools, are still under fierce downward pressure in a market in which ‘demand’ still rules, like it has already done during the last decade.

I have written dozens of motivations for testing jobs during these last two years and I’ve noticed that large employers and principals are still extremely picky with regard to their (temporary) personnel.

Companies demand very experienced workers with a long list of tool-driven and general (personal) skills and a genuine 'passion for their job', but refuse to pay ‘top dollar’ for them, unless they possess skills that are really extremely rare in the business.

Instead of settling for a (temporary) worker that can meet roughly 80% - 90% of the demands in the advert, knowing that he/she will be able to fill in the knowledge void very quickly in most cases, many large employers and principals still only want to settle for the ‘perfect 10’, when it comes to their temporary personnel and fixed employees.

Their adverts show at least 10 to 15 bullets of specifically demanded experience (“3 to 5 years experience in line of business abc and with programming tool xyz”), personal skills and expert knowledge of very specific tools, often put down as 'knock out criteria'.

If you as an ICT professional cannot meet all these demands or at least the vast majority of those (i.e. the ‘knock out’ criteria), there is a considerable chance that you will not be invited for a job conversation at all and your resumee will untimely end up in the dustbin. And that in spite of the fact that you are probably more than capable to execute the job at hand. 

No experience within the government? Then were sorry! No experience with the Protractor testing tool?! No, than we cannot use your knowledge and experience!” And indeed: these ‘perfect 10’ guys and girls are still very hard to find, just like they will be in any situation.

A large bank in The Netherlands requires their ICT professionals to bring their own working devices, like a notebook/laptop, storage devices, iPad and telephone (i.e. BYOD aka Bring Your Own Device) and work the first two weeks for free (i.e. without payment) as well. The latter is sold to their 'would be' consultants as 'an introduction period in which personnel is not productive yet’. Refuse this and your application probably does not stand a chance in the process!

Other large companies simply refuse to accept your resumee for a new job or assignment, when you have failed earlier during a  job application procedure for a different job. 

Does that sound like an alarming 17% shortage in ICT workers?! To me, it doesn’t.

And look at things from a different point of view. All the large banks and probably many insurance companies too have dismissed hundreds of their ICT workers, who were not considered ‘fit for the agile way of working’ anymore. Those were people who have worked to the full satisfaction of their employers for years in a row, but suddenly were not good enough anymore.

And for instance ‘Big Blue’ IBM has fired hundreds of workers during a recent reorganization, a.o. for reasons of losing a large contract at KPN, the Dutch telecom company. The following snippets come from Computable.

After counseling with the central works council, IBM has decided to scratch 334 jobs within the company. This reorganization had been announced already in March 2016 and now the definitive number of workers has been disclosed.

IBM carries out a large European job cutting operation, in which much work is transfered to India. There is a considerable chance that – after the 334 jobs that have been erased in the meantime – more people will lose their job. IBM would like to have carried out this operation before the end of this year.

To these ears all this does not sound like a real shortage in the number of ICT workers, like signaled by the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics, in spite of the increasing number of assignments. 

These IBM workers alone and also the bank’s and insurance companies’ ICT employees are in most cases perfectly capable people of which still many are currently looking for a new job or assignment. Companies and the government just have to give them a chance!

It just sounds like the 17% of ICT jobs that could not be filled in, according to the CBS, are either extremely specialized jobs – which will always be hard to fill in, as such people are always scarce and in demand – or jobs that have been administered by extremely picky companies, looking for their ‘perfect 10’ consultants and employees in vain.

To be honest, I don’t expect the situation of 1999 to return soon to The Netherlands. This in the light of the massive influx of foreign knowledge workers of the last fifteen years or the equally massive outsourcing of Dutch ICT jobs and work backlogs to India and Eastern Europe. 

The Dot Com bubble was really a crazy, ‘once in a lifetime’ situation, but the current situation is definitely not!

I just expect that the companies currently looking for ICT workers will become somewhat less picky in the coming months and years and become more willing to give ICT workers, who score a 7 or 8 out of 10, a chance, instead of waiting for "mr. or mrs. Perfect". 

Let us be honest: most of those ‘7 or 8’ workers are more than qualified and willing to do a wonderful job at their new employer or principal and therefore I don’t see the current ‘shortage’ as a problem. 

It is just a signal that companies and the government have to step over their initial reservations and settle for workers that seem a ‘teeny weeny’ bit less qualified, but are not in reality. And that is actually a great development, to be honest...

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