Caught short - ME channel struggles with staffing

The sight of empty office desks is not one that IT providers want to see, but it's becoming increasingly common as the Middle East channel struggles with the challenge of recruiting and maintaining skilled resources.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  August 13, 2008

The sight of empty office desks is not one that IT providers want to see, but it's becoming increasingly common as the Middle East channel struggles with the challenge of recruiting and maintaining skilled resources.

Talk of a skills shortage in the Middle East IT market would have been laughed off a few years ago, but for many players in the industry this sorest of subjects now represents a serious threat to their business.

If anything, the Middle East channel has more to lose than most of its global contemporaries because the market simply isn't capable of fulfilling its potential if companies lack the right competencies.

The same thing that happened in these markets a few years ago is now happening in India so some people are switching back because there are now better packages on offer for them.

There is no denying that concerns over skills shortages have reached fever pitch during the past year, with executives from both IT manufacturers and their channel partners candidly admitting that sourcing qualified talent is the thing that keeps them most awake at night.

Distributors and resellers, especially, are feeling the pinch. With their profitability heavily tied to rebates and staff accreditations, the potential consequences are disastrous if the conveyor belt of talent stops turning.

If mounting anecdotal evidence from the regional market is not enough to convince doubters that the skills pool is drying up, there is plenty of quantitative data to support the argument.

A study commissioned by Cisco and IDC forecasts that demand for networking skills in the UAE alone is poised to exceed supply by as much as 27% next year; a projection that would translate into a shortage of 19,000 people if it materialised.

IDC also estimates that only 65% of the 114,000 job vacancies for skilled IT professionals will be filled in the Middle East next year.

It's a dire scenario, and one that the research house warns could get worse. Without a marked improvement, the skills shortfall in the Middle East could widen to a massive 50% within the next seven years.

In some respects, fears over the skills deficiency have been proliferated by the rapid pace at which the market has developed.

Vendors and resellers have expanded faster than their HR departments have been able to keep up with, perpetrating a culture based on winning business first and then worrying about how to fulfil it later.

With corporate end-users also responding to the same sort of growth challenges by investing in their IT infrastructures, many VARs across the region are having to operate well below capacity because they don't want to give up the business.

To compound an already tense situation, the Middle East channel hasn't experienced the consolidation visible in developed markets, meaning there is not an abundance of skilled channel professionals seeking immediate work.

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