One third of US executives believe that salaries will rise by more than 20 per cent in 12 months, and by another 20 per cent in the following year. Demand for people qualified to update computer systems for the millennium has soared dramatically. Jackie Olivier, director of TransMillennium services at Cap Gemini, a computer consultancy, said: "A severe skills shortage can be expected to hit companies on this side of the Atlantic in the next 12 months. Salaries for those with the skills to deal with the problem will undoubtedly rise."
The report found that four out of five large American corporations are having difficulty finding experts to achieve year 2000 compliance goals.
"The UK is about six to 12 months behind America in terms of year 2000 awareness and preparedness," said Jackie Olivier. "If they are now feeling the squeeze of a tight labour market, we can expect a similar problem to hit the US shortly. If they leave their year 2000 solutions until the last minute they will find they have to throw money at the problem as the deadline approaches just to stay in business."
It is a view shared by Rob Wirszycz, director-general of the computer software services association. He said: "It is a skills crisis. There is a real shortage of people across the board. And salaries are rising fast. They are rising by 20 per cent year on year. It is quite possible to earn up to pounds 1,500 a week if you're working on contract. For project managers it is considerably more. They can expect to earn pounds 100,000 plus a year."
Estimates for the global cost of converting computers range from about pounds 400bn to pounds 1,984bn. The number of programmers required could run into millions.
The enormous task of reprogramming computers is the result of an efficiency short-cut more than 30 years ago. Years were written with the two-digit prefix dropped to save memory space. Come the year 2000 computers will revert to 1900, with catastrophic results. Some credit cards with expiry dates of 2000 have been rejected because they were read as 1900. Although the initial fears of a universal breakdown - from air-traffic control to hospital and social services most major companies are aware of the problem - it is the smaller firms that could be hit the hardest.
Rob Wirszycz added: "Stories of planes falling out of the sky are pure hype, but at its worst the problem could be very serious and severe, like losing data. Fortunately it won't come to that, if we can do our job properly."Reuse content