How to get a handle on the NZ skills crunch

Department of Labour ICT employment studies paint a grim picture of skills crisis

There is a lot said about the skills shortage, but getting a handle on exactly what skills are in short supply and the extent of current and future shortages is not easy.

Perhaps the best attempts have been made by the Department of Labour with its labour market reports and analysis and job vacancy monitoring programmes.

According to the department’s recruiters survey from December 2006, which surveyed 27 IT recruitment organisations, 118 specialisations out of 134 were in shortage (defined by 50% of recruiters saying finding staff in that category is “difficult” or “very difficult”).

Some in the industry say the survey’s methodology understates the extent of the problem by not counting private placements, positions that neither get advertised nor go through recruitment agencies. One of these is George Marr, CEO of training firm Ames.

“They are underestimating by a wide, wide margin,” he says. The skills shortage in this country is much worse than we could ever have anticipated because a lot of graduates with decent technology training emigrate,” he says.

But even reading the Labour Department study at face value makes for grim reading. In general, finding candidates with the right IT skills, as well as having good English communication skills is a significant issue.

“An additional concern that was raised was the issue that universities were somewhat behind in delivering up-to-date skills for the current ICT market,” the report says.

The broad category presenting the biggest challenge for recruiters, and therefore user organisations, was security. Ten out of 11 specialisations under this category were defined as being in shortage. But that category was not that far removed from several others. OLAP and analytical skills were in shortage in all eight subcategories as were ERP and e-commerce. GIS was in short supply in all three sub-categories. The same applies to interconnectivity and telecommunications. There was little to take cheer from.

In database administrations, Sybase SQL, Teradata, and DB2 skills were the hardest to acquire, while Microsoft, broadly speaking, and Oracle, were the most readily available.

Online it is Sharepoint, AJAX and Coldfusion skills that are hardest to find, followed by .Net and Java. Among the application design categories, development testers and test managers were hardest to find. In networking, Cisco and SOA skills ranked as most difficult, while Microsoft skills were the easiest to acquire.

On the desktop, Lotus Notes skills were the most difficult to find, while in telecommunications the greatest shortage was in VoIP. Enterprise applications skills were most challenging for organisations running Siebel, JD Edwards, Vignette and Peoplesoft. In analytics, SAS and Cognos specialists were tough to find.

In other studies, the Department of Labour has used Statistics New Zealand figures to size the local ICT market. In 2006 the number of ICT professionals employed was, according to the report, 28,000 and growing fast.

“The demand for IT professionals has grown rapidly since 2001,” the report says. “The number of employed IT professionals has increased from approximately 8,400 in June 2001 to over 28,000 in June 2006. Employment growth of IT professionals of 27.3% per annum was well above 2.8% growth for all occupations. On average, about 4,000 new IT jobs were created each year between June 2001 and June 2006.” Only 64% of vacancies in the category could be filled and only 1.9 suitable applicants were identified per vacancy.

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