There have been more rumblings among resellers and Vars about the impact of the skills crisis. This has become a growth barrier for many companies in the channel. During at least two main industry events recently, the agendas have been hijacked by high-end Vars' concerns over the effects that leading vendors' accreditation programmes have on their skills base.
Although the problem is not unique to one vendor, Microsoft's accreditation schemes seem to suffer the most because of its size and position. The crisis has been exacerbated by the weakness of computing skills, which our schools are imparting to school-leavers.
Our industry has to bear the training burden. One northern Var I spoke to last week was typical of many. It sent two engineers on a Microsoft accreditation programme. One had been on staff for a year, the other just weeks. The three-week programme, with expenses, cost the Var about £9,000 per person. Before the new engineer had even returned to work after the course, he announced he had been offered an extra £15,000 per year by an M25-corridor company and was resigning unless his boss could match the offer. This was an employee who had not done one hour of billable work for his employer since his training, but who was, because of his employer's training programme, holding his own boss's gun to his head.
There is nothing a company can do under these circumstances except wave goodbye to the employee and the investment. And you cannot entirely blame the employee. This company is, in fact, subsidising the whole industry's lack of investment in training.
Offering the employee more money may be a way out, but he could not match the offer without junking his salary structure.
What can be done about the skills crisis? There is no doubt it has produced dozens of cases such as this one. It will produce many more. But what are the solutions for Vars, which are being mercilessly raided as soon as they invest in training? Some companies are even attempting to steal the lists of trainees on each course. Vendors are sitting up and taking notice because they have been receiving increasingly worried calls from resellers who see no point in spending the money on training, but cannot afford to allow their skills base to deteriorate any further.
Poaching is an integral part of this business. It will not go away. But some agreement has to be reached about acceptable limits of disruption. The industry cannot tolerate this any more. At the very least, an accredited networks or specialist engineer has to earn his or her stripes.
Is there any other industry where a mere qualification earns you the right to an immediate doubling of salary? In most other sectors you have to earn your spurs. How many newly qualified engineers are capable of working in a crisis? How does a prospective employer know that a recently qualified Microsoft engineer can survive the stress of attempting to find an on-site problem in a mission-critical application that has been down for an hour while the customer piles on the pressure? That's not a risk I would want to take.
Vendors need to put green L-plates on new engineers and make it a condition that they cannot leave their current employer until they have done at least a year's work. It will not solve the problem - but it will slow it down.
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