Rick Marshall, MD of networking and communications infrastructure specialist Comunica plc, discusses the importance of ongoing development for existing IT employees, as well as the need to invest in the recruitment of new talent for the industry.
According to a recent e-skills UK survey, 85% of IT employers reported that IT professionals within their organisation overestimated their technical abilities. Nine out of 10 organisations recognised they had skills gaps and thought that this was having at least a minor impact upon their business, but only 51% stated that they would probably or definitely be providing training to reduce skills gaps. Why is it that only just over a half of UK businesses that work in IT said they would invest in training for their IT staff?
In order to best understand the recent decline in the IT networking industry, it is important to look at the effects of the 2001-03 economic downturn. During this time, many highly-skilled workers were made redundant or left IT because their employers could not afford to pay competitive salaries. IT training was also cut because of limited budgets. Lower client budgets drove down the price of IT services so much that the industry became driven by price rather than quality.
Now that the economy is on the upswing, the IT industry is faced with the challenge of changing the mindset of employers, employees and customers. The attitude of quality over cost must be rekindled, yet it is no easy feat. In order to effectively change the landscape of an entire industry, there must be a financial investment from both the IT networking suppliers and their customers.
The first step to help close the IT industry skills gap is for employers to develop existing staff and pay them competitive wages. Adequate recompense and proper training will push current employees to learn more and attract new talent to the industry.
One way in which IT service providers are addressing these recruitment, training and retention issues is with employee development programmes. Comunica’s programme involves a trainee management and an apprenticeship scheme. The apprentices work in every department of the company, while receiving weekly IT college courses. The on-the-job training and classroom environment cover areas such as implementation, design, estimation and technical skills required for a career in IT. Moreover, many of the apprentices choose to work with Comunica when the programme finishes, which ensures that the company receives a high calibre of new talent.
The trainee management scheme sees 10 experienced professionals undergo intense IT training. Individual milestones are set throughout the six-month programme so that trainees constantly face new challenges. Although most candidates do not have an IT background, they all have the work experience and management skills necessary to succeed in their new career path.
Robin Baker, Comunica Senior Site Manager, joined the company after undergoing the trainee management programme just over three years ago. He graduated from university with an honours degree in history and previously worked as a fibre optics engineering contractor. When Robin was contracted to work alongside Comunica on HSBC’s Tower cabling and networking project, he was intrigued and excited by the sheer size and scope of the endeavour. He said: “After working with Comunica at the Tower, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in IT with the company because of its people, atmosphere and scale of projects. I applied for the management programme and was selected from a pool of around 4,000 applicants. The training provided a comprehensive background in IT where I was taught everything from basic computer skills to managing complex IT projects.
“What I liked most about the training was its uniqueness. Whilst most leading businesses in the IT sector offer graduate programmes, there is lack of training in the areas of IT management and leadership skills. I can tell if someone I work with has gone through Comunica’s trainee management scheme because of the breadth and depth of IT knowledge they possess. Having this scheme available not only benefits the individual but ultimately benefits the client as the IT skills allow Comunica to offer the most efficient and advanced IT services to our customers.”
Another former trainee, Simon Loan, is now a Senior Project Manager and has been working with Comunica for more than six years. Previously he worked as an engineering manager building luxury yachts, but had an interest in technology and the IT industry.
“What initially attracted me to Comunica’s management scheme was the intensiveness of the programme. I was able to put into practice my existing skills both on site and within the classroom, whilst learning more about Comunica’s products and services. I was also able to call on the relevant experience of subject matter experts throughout the company’s various departments. Having this interaction and team building with the staff through my training meant that I was confident and at ease when I actually started my full time position as I felt that I was already part of the team and culture of the company.”
Quality and cost
Unfortunately, these schemes have become few and far between. Looking back at the IT sector two decades ago, apprenticeship schemes were prevalent in large UK companies. Since the recession these big industry players are not investing as much money into developing employees as they did in the past. In order to counter this training drain.
IT providers and their customers must come to a mutual understanding that quality and cost go hand in hand. IT suppliers must raise the bar for the level of service they offer customers and will be able to do so if clients are willing to invest more money into projects. With this increase of client investment, service providers will be able to offer additional training to existing staff and to employ highly skilled employees. Whilst both parties will have to commit to spending more money, the two sides will benefit from increased ROI from more efficient technology and continuity of educated IT staff.