Soft skills lacking in candidate-rich market: survey

Recruitment firm Kelly Services says demand for skilled and experienced IT professionals continues, despite recent economic conditions.

Late last year, Kelly Services conducted a workplace survey in 12 countries, including New Zealand, polling senior IT decision makers across many industries.

In the New Zealand survey, approximately 71 percent of respondents reported an increase or no change in demand for IT staff.

This was little different from Kelly Services' previous survey, carried out in July 2008, when 80 percent of respondents described the effects of the then-IT skills shortage as moderate to severe.

In the latest survey, 37 percent of respondents said demand for skilled IT staff had increased in their industry, 28.7 percent said it had decreased, while 34 percent said there was no change.

Of those who had experienced a decrease, 21.7 percent were expecting an increase in demand in the next three months, 32.6 percent anticipated an increase in six months, 28.2 percent said it would happen in a year, while only 10 percent said it was 18 months away and 6.5 percent said it will be two years or more before it happens.

Despite more candidates being on the market now than in 2008, finding the right candidate is still a challenge, says Steve Martin, director for professional and technical services at Kelly Services.

In commentary accompanying the release of the results of the survey, Martin states: "Clients have become very specific about their requirements and any additional staff must be able to make an immediate positive impact to a business".

Candidates who have soft, non-technical skills as well as IT knowledge are in demand, Martin says.

"As the traditional IT role becomes more dynamic, with tasks such as project management placing a greater emphasis on the need for building and establishing relationships; organisations are increasingly looking for IT professionals who can also demonstrate strong non-technical skills, particularly communication skills.

"With IT becoming ever increasingly an intrinsic part of nearly every aspect of a business, IT professionals are required to work within a collaborative team environment, demanding the ability to demonstrate initiative and teamwork.

"With many projects encompassing teams of people from around the world, the IT industry is becoming a more interactive industry than ever before," Martin states.

The five most important non-technical skills identified by respondents to the survey were: communication, problem solving and decision making, self-management, teamwork, and initiative and enterprise.

Of those, communication, initiative and enterprise, and self-management, were identified as being in the shortest supply.

Other soft skills that weren't as obviously lacking, but which were still noted by respondents, include creative thinking, a global mindset and negotiation.

When asked "If you are considering hiring a new IT professional, what, if any, barriers exist to making that decision?", 31.2 percent of respondents answered "Find the right skills", while 27.7 percent said "Cost", and 21.5 percent cited "Certainty of work supply". The employment process, and time required, were identified by 9 percent and 4 percent of respondents respectively, as factors inhibiting successful hiring.

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