It’s time to pay the teacher for IT skills

The region’s skills shortage shows no signs of abating, and IT managers at GITEX will be looking around for practical solutions to this thorny problem

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By  GITEX Times Staff Published  November 19, 2006

|~||~||~|Would you pay a technology college leaver US$4,400 a month? That is what one UAE quasi-government body is paying for a freshman network engineer straight out of Technology College. The scary part of this appointment is that it turns out to be a bargain appointment. As shown by recent stories in the regional IT media , that salary could be considered cheap at double the price. Attendees at GITEX will no doubt be painfully aware of the struggle to recruit skilled IT workers; many of the exhibitors are busy promoting training services, recruiting services and similar schemes to help organisations recruit and develop IT staff, especially local staff. The two issues at work here are Emiratisation and a shortage of suitably qualified national candidates. These two factors are seeing the salary expectations of UAE nationals rising out of all proportion despite there being plenty of expats available to do the job and for less. So there is more than a little concern growing among CIOs in the region as it dawns on them – and financial directors – that they can’t sustain inflated salary levels for much longer. Without wishing to denigrate the successful candidate’s acumen in any way – and we must stress we are not judging his capabilities to tackle the job in question – the decision to employ him was a bit of a compromise to say the least. The preferred candidate came with considerable more experience and was offered $6,500. He turned it down because he had an offer of $10,000 plus benefits a month from a private sector company desperate to get a local with experience on board, no doubt to meet some quota obligation. So that’s the market related price and the economists among us would say that’s that: pay up and shut up. But the fact is, this is a totally false market price because companies are being forced to recruit locals when the skills base has not yet been created. When this particular job was advertised it generated around 1,000 CVs. The trouble was only 1% were UAE nationals and of these none were qualified. Even those offered an opportunity to develop did not want the job, which was for a network administrator with MCSE 2003. There were 10 candidates who met the skills requirement, but all were non-Emiratis. Now, we all know that the local colleges are ramping up their IT certification courses and the skills base is growing so that one day there will be a significant pool of local skilled personnel being generated. But we also know that many recently graduated nationals do not automatically look for employment locally. So more graduates is not going to mean the availability of a bigger local skills pool. There is no doubt that many IT managers are thinking that perhaps Emiratisation will slow down and that perhaps they can fall back on the expats. Well, beware. There is a skills shortage brewing globally. As the aging Baby Boomers get ready to hang up their rattles, the number of college students entering computer science has dropped 50% in the last five years, according to the Computer Research Association. This is at a time when the need for corporate IT people is growing. Obviously, there is not going to be a ready supply of the people most needed in the future from outside the region either. It looks as though it might be a case of pay up and shut up in the future, or at least make sure your children are first in line to sign up for a computer science degree. And, at GITEX, a time to start taking the recruitment and training companies even more seriously.||**||

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