Skills shortage in region could cripple IT projects

Massive networking and IT skills shortages across the region could leave organisations struggling to complete projects, and losing millions of dollars as a result, experts have warned.

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By  Diana Milne & Dylan Bowman Published  July 16, 2006

Massive networking and IT skills shortages across the region could leave organisations struggling to complete projects, and losing millions of dollars as a result, experts have warned. By 2009 there could be a networking skills shortage of over 40% in Kuwait and Jordan, a 30 to40% shortage in Saudi Arabia and in the UAE a 20 to30% shortfall, according to an IDC study commissioned by Cisco Systems. The study claimed that in 2005 there were already shortages of 30 to 40% in Kuwait and 20 to 30% in the UAE, Jordan and Saudi. Dr Habib Talhami, head of the Institute of Informatics at the British University in Dubai (BuiD) told IT Weekly he believes the region is facing a massive shortage of IT managers and project management professionals and claimed it was the norm for projects to be delayed as a result. Samer Alkharrat, general manager of Cisco Systems, said he believed the networking skills shortage across the region was costing companies and public sector organisations millions of dollars and was to blame for advanced networking technology failing to take off in the Middle East. “It’s difficult to measure but it’s definitely millions of dollars. Government projects are normally the ones that are more visible in the country,” he said. “You see a little bit of slowdown in those and you see more baselining in those. The ones that are less visible are the enterprise ones because they are more private,” he continued. “We see a lot of these projects coming in and we believe that there is a lot more potential for advanced technologies deployment there,” Alkharrat added. He said that there would be a “severe problem” across the Middle East if the situation did not improve and if the forecast skills shortages for 2009 were not prevented. “In the next three years things are going to get worse in terms of money lost, in terms of delays, in terms of loss of productivity and competitive edge which is really the more tangible benefit out of technology rather than dollars,” he claimed. Although Cisco’s predictions for the UAE were relatively favourable compared to other countries in the region, the massive economic growth in the country and corresponding increase in demand for networking skills could have a major impact. At present there is a shortage of 9,400 networking professionals in the region — a skills shortage of 23%. This is forecast to rise to 27% in 2009 with a shortage of 19,000 professionals and a 34% shortage of those qualified to deploy advanced technologies. “As you build a state-of-the-art country, which is what we are doing, you have to enable it with state-of-the-art technology,” said Alkharrat. “If you don’t address the gap then you end up building brick and mortar and you don’t end up building competitive environments,” he stated. Talhami highlighted the construction industry, financial and healthcare sectors, as well as governments, as key areas affected by the IT skills shortage. “The indications are by talking to the various companies and government departments that there is a real shortage at the moment and it will get much worse because there are more and more projects coming online,” he said. “Usually what happens with projects is that there are huge delays. The projects are not delivered on time as they should be. These delays definitely cost companies millions of dollars,” Talhami went on to add. He said the causes of the skills shortage were the current IT boom in the Middle East that was placing a huge demand on skilled professionals, the time lag created as universities that have begun producing adequately trained graduates tried to catch up with the market, and the heavy reliance on professionals imported into the region from abroad. Talhami said he believed that if governments, universities and industry work together to tackle the problem it could be resolved in as little as two to five years. “Everyone has a responsibility, not just the government,” he went on to say.

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