How to address the skills shortage

The Lampen Group recently released its first Climate Survey, to get a feel for how the election might affect business and recruitment. Lampen's climate survey found the skills shortage was as evident as ever, but the interesting thing about this survey is that it went on to ask the respondents who should take responsibility for the skills shortage.

The Lampen Group recently released its first Climate Survey, to get a feel for how the election might affect business and recruitment. Reflecting its earlier salary survey, Lampen’s climate survey found the skills shortage was as evident as ever, with organisations having difficulty sourcing qualified, skilled and/or experienced people for a variety of roles, the most difficult being IT, with 34.4% of organisations experiencing difficulty. The main reason for difficulty (cited by 74% of respondents) was the lack of skilled, qualified and experienced people. Of course, none of this is news to anyone in the IT world, but the interesting thing about this survey is that it went on to ask the respondents (CEOs, human resources and finance managers in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) who should take responsibility for the skills shortage. The results were interesting. A third of the respondents said the government should not be responsible. When asked what the private sector could do, respondents said it could:

  • Provide for greater investment in training (69%).
  • Have closer relations with educational institutions (60%).
  • Increase flexible staffing options and/or flexible working hours (just over a third).
  • Ensure better family-friendly work policies (30%). When asked how the skills shortage should be addressed by government, answers included:
    • Incentives for students to study (36%).
    • Government-subsidised training schemes (29%).
    • Changes to the school curriculum (27%).
    • So what do you think? Having spoken to people from different parts of the IT industry — including technical people, recruitment people, and educators — for our recent knowledge-based economy issue, I believe a mix of the above is essential. Ensuring the private sector has strong links with the education sector is vital if institutions are to turn out graduates the industry requires. People praise the industry committees the polytechnics have, but many aren’t so complimentary about the university sector’s contact with education. Still, there are examples of good relationships between universities and industry such as the awards Compaq now offers each year to Otago University students. Compaq saw the need to get skilled people for its application development centre in Christchurch and came up with the awards as a solution. As long as the recipients have the appropriate skills, they get a job at the centre. However, there are some things only the government can do and that includes changing the school curriculum. One of the appeals regularly voiced in the industry is for a computing subject at Bursary level so good students don’t ditch computing after the sixth form or not take it in the first place because they want to concentrate on subjects that will be useful to them in the seventh form. The lack of a seventh-form computing subject means they are less likely to continue the subject at university. There needs to be some caution about what form the subject takes however. The head of Unitec’s Department of Information Systems and Computing (Disc), Alison Young, said recently that computing is a similar term to science. "Do we need a Bursary science paper?" she asks. "Yes we do, but is it physics, chemistry or biology? Do we need a computing Bursary paper? Yes we do, but it’s so wide and it’s growing so where do we put the emphasis?" I’d be interested in hearing what you think about this entire issue. If you were asked the questions asked in the Lampen survey, what would your response be? Perhaps you have some solutions of your own that haven’t been suggested here. Email me at the address below. Mills is Computerworld’s careers editor and can be contacted at kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz or ph: 03-467-2869 or fax: 0-3-467 2875.

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