IT is your ticket to the world

The skills shortage offers chances for travel - but there can be drawbacks, says Helen Jones
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The Independent Online
"There is a huge skills gap in information technology. There simply aren't enough high-calibre graduates to fill the jobs on offer," says Lynne Farrage, a consultant with NBS Assessment Services.

Craig Millar, managing director of the IT search firm Craig Millar Associates, adds: "The market for people with computer skills has gone crazy." He says that 85,000 information technology jobs have been advertised in the UK in the past nine months.

It's not just the UK that needs computer skills. For those with relevant skills, there are great opportunities to live and work across Europe, the Middle East, the US and Australia, short- term or long-term. Anne Bell, business development manager for the recruitment company Hunter Skills, says: "The rarer your expertise, the better." IBM mainframe experience, Oracle, financial packages, Unix, real time development skills and SAP are particularly sought after. European and American companies will offer potential staff as much assistance as possible to smooth the way - including, in the case of the US, help with work permits.

Perhaps the biggest market for British nationals with IT and communications skills is the Netherlands followed by Belgium (which is mainly EU-related work) and Luxembourg. Scandinavia and Switzerland, which are biased towards financial experience, also offer potential.

Languages, or rather the lack of them, do not pose an insurmountable problem. Doug Woodward, UK director of operations for the recruitment company Computer People, says: "The big advantage of working in Holland is that it is English speaking. If you go to France or Italy and don't speak the language, then it is much more difficult."

Anne Bell agrees: "Multinationals are primarily English speaking, but if you don't speak the language it is restrictive. In Holland, it really doesn't matter whether you speak Dutch. I've known people who have worked in Belgium and who after five years still don't speak a word of French or Flemish. But I think you will always feel like an outsider if you don't."

Australia, of course, does not carry such problems. Gary Allen, managing director of the recruitment consultancy Apex, says there are great opportunities Down Under. "The market there is certainly picking up. They are very optimistic and upbeat. There is tremendous scope because they have a skills shortage. Although they are trying to build stronger links with the Pacific Rim countries, those countries also have a skills gap, so they are looking to the UK and the US for the staff that they need."

Money isn't necessarily one of the advantages of working abroad - except in the Middle East, which has a particular shortage of IT banking specialists and is prepared to pay very well for them.

Gary Allen warns that generally people do not go to the Middle East for the lifestyle or for the work experience. He adds that if you look farther afield, the picture is the same: "In Australia, the money is disappointing. We are not talking about big money. What it offers is the standard of living and the weather rather than enormous sums of money."

If money is not the draw, working abroad can have other benefits. "People do it because it gives them the chance to work on an interesting project, or because it expands their horizons," Anne Bell says. Gary Allen says there are a host of reasons for deciding to go abroad - "the excitement, the opportunities, a change of pace, the lifestyle".

Perhaps the biggest problem of working abroad is the effect it can have on your personal life. One computer programmer who has worked abroad for a number of years says: "It ruined my relationship with my partner because I had to dash across from Belgium at weekends to see her. I ran up huge phone bills, and although I developed a good social life in Brussels I lost contact with some of my friends back in the UK. I wouldn't do it again."

Gary Allen adds: "There are a list of negatives to be thought about: family and partner commitments, loneliness, homesickness, isolation, instability, the feeling that you are out of control. What if the project goes bust halfway through? You may have to leave, and who can say if you will get the perfect job when you return to the UK?"

But a stint abroad will improve your CV, as Doug Woodward says: "It shows future employers that you've got something about you, that you are prepared to take risks and that you set about broadening your horizons."

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