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The general picture on the skills gaps that employers complain of may be improving, but according to E Skills, the Sector Skills Council (SSC) for the IT and Telecommunications industries, ICT employers are finding bigger skills problems than ever.

The work of an SSC sees them work very closely with the businesses and employers in the sector seeking to encourage the training and skills growth required by said employers. Thus, the work of an SSC forms a crucial part of the Government's long term plan for FE. Specifically, an SSC encourages the provision of the skills and training that the economy and businesses demand to help to maintain Britain's economic strength in an increasingly competitive and highly skilled international marketplace.

Finding the Crux of the Problem

The findings of the E "“ Skills quarterly survey recently released make troubling reading for those concerned with the skills battle in the UK. The inquiry found that the percentage of ICT employers reporting a skills gap in the applicants or in the workforce increased from 12% to 14%. Of more concern is the high rating given to the impact of this skills deficit, however, as businesses seek to be as competitive as possible.

In this context, the employers questioned were asked to place a numerical value on the impact of a skills gap between 0 and 100 (with 0 being no impact, and 100 being the highest impact). The employers rated the problem amongst ICT staff at "48" "“ the highest rating in more than twelve months, and hardly the positive picture of skills for the workforce that has been painted in some other surveys. In rating the quality of applicants "“ on average there are 26 applicants for each vacancy "“ employers responded that a mere 27% of applicants would typically by suited for the position in terms of their skills set.

The Money that Folds, or Beeps?

ICT recruiters have reported experiencing problems in locating fully skilled applicants, with 20% reporting that they had found it difficult to recruit suitably skilled individuals. This is up from 17% in the previous quarter, and is higher than the average from recruiters generally (16%). It would appear, therefore, that the provision of training for staff and for new appointees would be of the highest priority.

In spite of the skills gap reported, however, 20% of the firms surveyed "“ more than 1,000 employers responded to the survey "“ stated that they had no plans to train staff over the year ahead. Just 7% of ICT employers rated "staffing and skills" as a key issue facing their departments / business, which would seem to indicate a disparity between the gaps encountered when employing personnel and those judged to impact financial performance.

Spending during the year in question has been dominated to some extent by the purchase of newer and better hardware, with 33% of IT spending focussed on this. The spending on hardware is expected to fall to 18% in the coming year; however, the anticipated rises in spending are largely in staffing in IT and Telecoms areas, with anticipated levels of IT and Telecoms training rising by only 1% (from 3% to 4%).

It would appear that there is a significant gap between what employers claim to need from skills in ICT, therefore, and what they consider economically important. If the employers truly wish to tackle the skills gap amongst both staff and applicants, there will have to be a change in employer attitudes towards training provision.

Jethro Marsh

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