7 June 2011 | 0
For people struggling to find a job in Ireland, it may come as a surprise to know that in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, there are plenty of jobs and not enough skilled people to fill them.
In fact, so difficult is it for tech companies to find the right staff to meet their requirements that many are beginning to look outside Ireland. It’s predicted that as sectoral growth continues, head hunting will re-emerge as the predominant force in the IT recruitment sector.
But why is this the case? How is it that Ireland can have over 400,000 unemployed people looking for work at the same time that one sector of the economy is willing to pay good wages to the right people, and yet can’t seem to find them? The answer lies in the problem of finding the right people.
The right one
“A lot of the wider community can’t understand how there are jobs going unfilled when we have so many people unemployed – it seems counterintuitive,” said Robert Delaney, head of ICT at recruitment specialist CPL. “But a lot of those 400,000 just don’t have the technical skills that are in demand and required right now. That’s the long and short of it.”
According to CPL, the demand it is seeing from its clients are in the areas of web technology, data analytics and software engineering.
“There’s particularly big demand for people skilled in data analytics, not just in Ireland but internationally. Accenture is opening up a new data analytics centre in Dublin, which is a great coup for the country, and there is huge demand out there for people able to understand and make sense of the volumes of data we have going around. They’re invaluable, particularly to organisations looking to use their data to make good buying and business decisions,” said Delaney.
“There’s also demand in the software engineering world for dot.net, C#, Java and C++, as well as in web services and in understanding user interfaces. On the infrastructure side, we also can’t get enough people in the area of Linux and Unix technology, particularly in scalable organisations.”
Lack of experience
Delaney’s assessment of what skills are in demand tallies with what tech companies in the market for staff are experiencing. Deirdre Carney, human resource manager with PFH Technology Group, said her organisation is currently looking for engineers with strong technical analytical skills and with knowledge across a range of products including Microsoft, HP, IBM, Cisco, Symantec, Citrix, Siemens Openscape, Nimsoft, VMware and others. However, finding people with this kind of experience is difficult.
“It is still a challenge to source the right fit of candidates,” she said. “IT skills are in demand, so competition for good candidates is still keen. We find that there are few graduates with the correct disciplines, however PFH has previously successfully developed engineers straight out of college,” she said.
“Sourcing good candidates is still a challenge. We use a variety of tools to find people. We work directly with the market, but also with specialist IT recruitment companies with whom we have established relationships. Roles for excellent candidates with specialist skills are harder to source.”
Hard to find
It’s a problem that web content management specialist Terminal Four has also experienced. “We’ve been trying to recruit around 20 people and we’ve experienced real challenges,” said Piero Tintori, the firm’s chief executive officer.
“Trying to get people with good, strong IT skills is proving very hard. In particular we have some roles for pre-sales technical consultants-people with good web experience, nothing too crazy, yet they’re very hard to find. Research and development and client support people are similarly very hard to get.”
Terminal Four provides software used by clients around the world, including the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, UCD and around 78 other universities globally.
“We have six or seven vacancies on our web site right now, and we’d be growing quicker if we could take on more people,” said Tintori.
The problem facing Tintori and many others like him is not just that people with the desired skillsets are thin on the ground, but that those who are out there already have jobs, and aren’t keen to move when all around them they see companies going to the wall.
“ICT has always had a skills shortage – not just in Ireland but globally,” said Robert Delaney of CPL. “It’s not been possible to produce enough techies in the numbers required to take advantage of the scale of technological development we’ve seen in the last ten years.”
“Whereas in the past people changed jobs quite easily, they tend not to now. Even if you are a highly skilled and highly sought after technologist, you are thinking twice about changing jobs because you’re worried about your mortgage and about the economy. Even though you know there are three, four or five job opportunities out there for you, you might think better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
“We’re working with our clients to get them to manage the message they are sending to potential candidates, in order to get people to consider moving. There are people out there looking to improve their situation, but we need to hold their hands a bit more and get them past the stage where they are just tentatively looking, to the stage where they are actually ready to jump.”
Delaney said companies can do this in a few different ways. “The first is to convince the candidate that the company is solid, that the revenues are good, that there won’t be a ‘last-in, first-out’ policy in operation, and that projections for the next three to five years are solid. There has to be a good career path open for people. That’s where our value as the professional recruiter comes in,” he said.
Niall Kelly, founder of Computerjobs.ie, agrees that many people in the IT sector who previously wouldn’t have thought twice about jumping ship have become more risk averse, as austerity measures have bitten deeply.
“A few years ago, it was easier to fill jobs and people moved jobs more readily. Today the market is wobbly, and people have become less inclined to take a risk. Before, people would say to their boss, give me X amount more or I’ll walk. Now it’s different, and every time you turn on the news you hear another horror story of a company closing,” he said.
“But in my view that will change hugely by the end of the year, and head hunters will become a lot more active. There are a lot of companies out there looking to grow who can’t find the people to fuel that growth. Other countries don’t have these issues – Poland in particular is well ahead of us. It has low wages and lots of candidates, and I think that any recruitment company that has the gumption to start hiring people in Poland and bringing them over here would do very well.”
CPL’s Delaney believes that part of the blame for this skills shortage can be placed at the door of the education system.
“In the 1990s we saw lots of IT talent coming through and setting up companies like Baltimore and Iona, but after the IT crash in the early 2000s, technology got a bad reputation. Not as many graduates went down the tech route, and as a result we haven’t had the consistent influx of people into the IT sector that we should have had, even during the economic boom years,” he said.
“We’ve started to redress that balance, but only really since late 2008 and the start of 2009, when things started to go really pear-shaped elsewhere in the economy. It’s coming through, but it’s going to take three, four and five years to get people through the system.”
John Power of Engineers Ireland agrees. “We need a fundamental review of the education system which looks at the opportunities and challenges that will present themselves in the future, as opposed to the lack of opportunities there are right now,” he said.
“We need to prepare people for what’s coming down the road. The way technology is developing in the ICT sector, in the biomedical sector and the microelectronics sector, there are changes taking place so rapidly that it is inevitable that there are going to be opportunities in those spaces in the years ahead.”
Power believes the government should be directing and biasing any incentives at its disposal towards those areas. “This generation has a moral responsibility to leave the country in a better state for the next generation than they found it themselves. I believe that a way of doing that is preparing for these future opportunities,” he said.
In the meantime, Power suggests that people who used to work in technical professions should think seriously about retraining for a career in IT.
“We can either curse the darkness or we can light a candle. The day is gone when we could expect to go to college at the beginning of our careers and then do the same job in the same way for life-that’s dead and gone,” he said. “We need to change our mind-set. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of ability and competence who could be retrained or re-educated, and who don’t require a degree or PhD or anything.”
Of course, any company hoping to attract a candidate who is currently working for someone else will need to make any offer they make financially attractive. “Salaries in the IT sector are still competitive, so in order to attract talent, it is necessary to offer a good package,” said Carney of PFH Technology Group.
“The myth that high unemployment means a surplus of labour is not relevant to the IT industry. The majority of personnel within the IT sector experienced the pressures of austerity along with the rest of Ireland, but not in terms of holding or changing roles. In the main most IT staff who were made redundant secured a new role within three months.”
The digital, marketing and media recruitment agency Prosperity.ie recently published the results of a salary survey which found that while other sectors have implemented salary decreases since 2009, the ICT sector has more or less maintained 2009 salary levels, with pay either staying as it was, or increasing slightly.
“The big change from 2009, when we last did this survey, to 2011 is the massive increase in roles. An experienced candidate from the digital sector will not struggle to find a new role now,” said Gary Mullan, joint managing director of Prosperity.ie. “We find that most of our placements are as a result of us headhunting passive candidates, as there are few experienced people who are out of work in the digital sector.”
This is something that is also being seen elsewhere in the industry, according to Kelly of Computerjobs.ie.
“We’re starting to see salaries creep up, based on supply and demand. What’s happening is that a developer goes to hand in his notice to his boss, who then realises that to hire someone else they’re going to have to pay a recruiter €5,000 and then spend another three to six months training this person in to get them back up to speed,” he said.
“It’s too much hassle so they’re counter offering. If the guy was on €40,000 and gets a job offer of €45,000, their existing boss is offering them €48,000 to stay.”