Skills gap leaves firms hunting 70,000 staff

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The Independent Online
INFORMATION technology recruitment consultancies are facing a crisis over a lack of skilled candidates. There are 70,000 IT vacancies and there is no immediate hope of filling them.

"A serious mismatch exists between IT skills demand and labour supply. The consequences are clear because businesses depend on IT to operate and will therefore be unable to do all that they have planned," said Bob Wirszcz, director general of the Computer Software Services Association.

The millennium bug is not the only reason for increased demand for IT skills. The financial institutions need new programs for European economic and monetary union (Emu), whether Britain joins in the first wave or not. "This draws the number of skilled programmers and systems engineers away from working on the millennium bug, and leaves a gap that may possibly have disastrous effects," said Tony Jones managing director of Vision Computer Recruitment.

The skills shortage is good news for graduates, however. Larger companies will recruit straight from university and train up newcomers. Neil Holloway, deputy general manager of Microsoft UK, said that universities did not gear their curriculum enough towards the industry. "Graduates are an investment for most companies, which will only see a return after nine months to a year."

The prospects for graduates are extremely good. Two or three years ago, a graduate with no experience would start on a salary of pounds 12,000. This year they can expect pounds 18,000, a rise of 50 per cent: "Companies are desperate ... Candidates with three or four years' experience can expect to have up to 30 companies snapping at them," Mr Jones said.

Experienced contractors, or freelancers can afford to pick and choose. David Swain, MD of Stanford Associates, said: "There are a lot of contractors around, but they are demanding higher rates, because they don't like to get too tied into long arrangements. If they do, they want some kind of bonus arrangement or golden handcuff to stay."