A City-based networking dealer told me recently that it is having to pay certified Novell engineers #80,000 a year to keep them in place. That?s a good salary by anyone?s standard, but for an engineer? The going rate in the City is, apparently, #65,000 anyway, but this dealer pays its engineers more so that they won?t go elsewhere. These figures are astonishing and they spell out only one thing for resellers and for users if they are not curbed ? disaster.
There seems to be no real answer to the present skills shortage, and dealers have started to poach both technical and sales staff from each other on a regular basis. This is causing friction and disquiet. They are also starting to entice people out of the distribution sector and that is causing other problems.
No one knows exactly what to do about this situation. Banks are reportedly planning to spend 30 per cent more on IT this year than they did last year. In one respect this is good ? dependency on IT means dependency on our industry ? but it is also a time bomb. They are sucking IT staff out of the industry with super-attractive salaries (and this is only the banks by the way). IT spending is growing in all sectors and so is the demand for staff, as commercial businesses struggle to grapple with growing networks and with the year 2000 and EMU problems.
The IT industry is training people as quickly as it can, but training firms can?t keep up with demand, and the education system can?t churn out enough people to meet the growth.
Qualified engineers and developers are moving into contracting work and naming their price. Dealers that can?t get the staff have no choice but to use them. Costs are escalating dramatically at a time when there is strong downward pressure on pricing and margins.
Clearly, this sort of salary inflation can?t go on. Even a small dealership with only two engineers is paying around #40,000 a year over the odds for its engineering staff. If this trend continues, something, somewhere is going to have to give and it is most likely to be reseller businesses.
Corporates are bound to attract high-fliers who want a relatively easy life, and the enthusiasts who want to move from project to project to keep themselves interested. Outsourcing firms are also soaking up talent and, with lucrative contracts to fulfil, they have plenty to offer the experienced technician. This is going to leave dealers and distributors fighting for those who are willing to stay in the trade.
The most successful companies will certainly be able to hold on to some of their staff, but at a cost. Those who don?t manage to retain staff may have to compromise in the short term and risk taking on relatively inexperienced people or training staff from scratch.
The trouble with the first solution is that service levels may decline if the people are not up to the job and customers might look elsewhere ? to other resellers or vendors. Some vendors are looking increasingly like service companies once again.
Training staff from scratch means considerable investment and takes time. When staff are trained, you?ll need to ensure that they don?t leave the nest as soon as they are fully fledged. That will mean introducing an incentive scheme or a salary scale, or running a claw-back system where the trained individual is liable to repay a percentage of the training costs if they leave within a certain time frame.
But people can?t be constrained in this way permanently. Dealers that do get staff trained will need to ensure that when the experienced staff move on, there are others to take their place.This means a continuous investment in training and considerable expense.
But the onus should not be on the reseller alone. The skills shortage is an industry-wide problem and it is one in which everyone must play their part. If there are too few skilled people in the industry ? at whatever level ? then support, engineering and development work, will not be as good as it ought to be.
If service organisations take all the technicians off the trade, users will suffer the consequences of having too little expert assistance. At the same time, vendors will find their products are not as well supported as they should be and customer satisfaction will decline. It is British business that will feel the pain.
This is a problem that everyone must share. We need more technically trained staff. Vendors need to introduce more education programmes, and resellers must take part in these schemes, and start to bring new staff into the system.
Users must be persuaded to be patient while the skills crisis continues. If they are unable to give the industry some time to catch up, they may send service levels into a tailspin.
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