When considering the options of recruiters operating in the IT space, the old saying "beggars can't be choosers" may spring to mind. The IT skills gap has been an issue for years, with IT firms crying out for the right staff, be they great graduates, top techies or super-savvy salespeople. But there are simply not enough staff interested in filling the available vacancies.
Channel recruiter Marc Sumner, managing director of Roberston Sumner, said in February that vacancies in the channel reached an all-time high that month, up 30 per cent on the year before.
With that mind, you might be forgiven for thinking that hiring managers in the IT space would be grateful for any interest they get in their vacancies and might be prepared to settle for someone who ticks a few, but not all, of the boxes, rather than leave a role vacant. But that is not the case, according to public sector supplier Skyscape's chief executive Simon Hansford.
Speaking at an EMC event focusing on the IT skills gap, Hansford said that his firm currently has about 60 vacant roles. But he is in no rush to fill them, and said the company's exacting standards will not slip, regardless of the low supply of potential candidates.
"It's challenging out there, quite frankly. It is challenging to find the right people," he said. "I think having the right hurdle is really important and I would rather have empty vacancies than the wrong people in the business. I think it destroys the culture."
He said that this month, for the first time, Skyscape is bringing in contractors to do certain essential work, adding that he would rather wait as long as it takes to find the best permanent, full-time staff.
Skyscape's interview process involves psychometric testing to ensure that candidates are right for the job and have the characteristics desired for the role. Hansford accepts that testing personalities and aptitude in this way is a somewhat uncommon approach but said regardless of the skills gap, standards must be kept high.
"Where we have found success is in our interview process - it is all about our values and beliefs and we think that is really important," he said. "It allows us to find the right candidates and in the long run we can retain those people because they have bought into what we are doing and they understand it.
"In the public sector, we are always saying ‘I am a taxpayer', so are we a company you'd want the government doing business with? We're not ripping people off - we are doing the right thing. Values and beliefs help us find the right people and we do a lot of psychometric testing to prove that as well.
"That's a challenge - we have had people walk away because we have asked to psychometrically test them. They've not been prepared to go through that. It's really competitive out there, and no one is just interviewing with us. But once we have found the right people, because they have bought into us, we find it very easy to to get them to accept the offer."
EMC's UK managing director Ross Fraser agreed that waiting for the best staff is the way forward and said top talent can come from unexpected places.
"You've got to get the best talent possible and be willing to wait, rather than bring in the wrong talent," he said. "I've brought in people from outside the industry who have no knowledge of technology, for instance, because they have the right DNA. They have the right attitude and have shown the right enthusiasm and willingness to learn. That for me is more important than actually having someone who has a tick in the box in terms of technology. For me, it's about making sure you have the right person, but don't limit yourself."
Hansford added that personal qualities are an essential consideration when taking on full-time staff, but warned that not all young people share similar enthusiasm in the workplace.
"We're doing all the recruitment fairs but getting people to understand the passion of the business... is very hard to do," he said. "In December we have a large recruitment fair at work and we try to do it over several days. The amount of dropouts [is high]; they don't even have the courtesy to tell you they're not coming.
"We're coming up towards the end of the undergraduate [sandwich] year now and I offer them training courses - I say ‘I will pay you to go on a week's training course to become a Cisco CCNA [Cisco Certified Network Associate], or a VMware VCP [VMware Certified Professional]'. I am paying them to do that as they leave my business. Why am I doing that? Because I believe in doing what is right. I believe in investment in people. One of the qualifications [of the training offer] is that they book it themselves, I am not booking it for them. But about half of them won't do it. They can't be arsed. They don't have the motivation."
Perhaps paradoxically, although there appears to be a very low demand for IT jobs, a new survey ranks them among the best in the world.
Job search site CareerCast publishes an annual Jobs Rated Report which ranks professions on a range of factors including income, outlook, stress and physical demands. In its 2016 report, the company ranked data scientist as the best job, with an annual median salary of almost $130,000 (£92,000) and a ‘growth outlook' to 2024 of 16 per cent, the latter figure being based on a combination of employment growth, income growth potential and unemployment).
Of the top 10 jobs ranked by CareerCast, four related to the IT space: data scientist took the top spot, IT security analyst was ranked third, in seventh place was software engineer and computer system analyst popped up in eighth place (see box below for full list).
Getting the word out
But it seems these figures alone are not enough to convince today's youngsters that a career in technology is a good one.
TechUK's head of policy Charlotte Holloway also spoke at the EMC event and said that certain initiatives where industry employers have worked with educational establishments are beginning to pay off.
"From an industry-wide perspective, there is certainly cause for hope, but there's no cause for complacency," she said. "If we look at some of the primary and secondary school initiatives, yes, we've got the computing curriculum, but we have been really encouraging industry to turn up and get involved with code clubs and other areas.
"We have [tech] companies with a strong local presence sending industry volunteers to work at code clubs, get involved and do work experience days. We're already seeing that having a positive effect. I was talking to a CFO who did the right thing and went into a school. At the start of the session he said ‘who wants to work in the tech industry?' and nobody put up their hands. They were like, ‘what is this assembly? It's awful'. But by the end he said ‘who wants to work in the tech industry?' - it wasn't the whole room, but there was a good proportion putting up their hands. When we see passionate people going out there saying why this is so exciting, we are seeing change."
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