Revived IT projects challenged by skills gap

There are signs that the recession is loosening its tight grip on IT projects within companies. Recruitment firm Manpower is seeing an increasing demand for business analysts, whose research and scoping skills are typically required at the first stages of a project. That indicates an increase in the number of projects about to kick off, says Matt Love-Smith, business manager of Manpower Professional in Christchurch.

"We can expect more demand in coming months," he says.

IT professionals reached number three on Seek's top-five most sought-after employees list last month, says Love-Smith.

"ICT managers, ICT professionals and ICT and telecommunications technicians are the most popular jobs," he says. "Specific skill sets in demand include Java and C# developers."

SQL developers and business analysts are also in hot demand, according to Manpower's research.

More emphasis is also being placed on ICT professionals who are able to communicate and integrate effectively with the broader business, he says. "Job seekers can no longer rely on technical skills alone."

A year ago, Manpower's research showed that 70 percent of local ICT companies didn't believe the economic recession would have an impact on their hiring plans. And it looks like their gut-feeling was right -- Manpower has seen an ongoing demand for tech workers, especially from smaller companies that export their products and are not as reliant on local market conditions, says Love-Smith.

However, the brain-drain is continuing to cause a skills shortage in the ICT market. With the economic signs now appearing more positive, the skills chasm is becoming more acute. Even in the middle of the recession, 60 percent of local ICT employers were reporting difficulties in finding skilled ICT workers. Now, this number is likely to increase dramatically, says Love-Smith.

"We know that the technology sector in New Zealand is growing," he says.

The ICT Taskforce estimates the sector has the potential to grow from 4 percent to 10 percent of GDP in the next 10 years, he says.

"The ICT sector is also one of New Zealand's fastest growing industries, generating over $1 billion a year in export revenue. Couple this with the current demand for ICT skills and the number of employers finding it difficult to recruit skilled workers can only increase," says Love-Smith.

To avoid being held back by a skills shortage, employers need to focus on presenting a compelling proposition to attract staff.

"Pay isn't always necessarily the answer," he says. "Employers need to offer interesting and challenging work and the ability to work with new technologies. Flexible working hours and work/life balance will also come into play."

Once coveted staff members are on board, employers need to actively work to retain them by providing a positive culture and leadership, he says. Employers should also think about on-the-job training, particularly for those jobs they are finding difficult to fill. Another smart move would be to invest in nurturing new talent, which sets the company up for the future, he says.

It seems the tech sector is once again an attractive choice for students or seekers of a career change. Love-Smith even calls it a "future-proof career option", especially for those who have solid technical skills combined with broader commercial understanding.

Demand for long-term ICT contractors is still restrained though, and investments in large IT projects are still on ice, he says.

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