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Forrester: Skills Shortage Will Worsen Unless Industry Seeds IT Talent

A new study warns of dire consequences if the industry doesn't work with higher education to promote the viability of IT as a career.

Jeffrey Schwartz

June 13, 2006

3 Min Read

If systems integrators and customers don't become more proactive in seeding new IT talent, the shortage of skilled technical and sales personnel could become dire in the coming years, preliminary findings of a new study from Forrester Research show.

Enrollment in college, university and trade-school programs focused on IT and programming is significantly down, said Laurie Orlov, vice president and research director at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester, and the keynote speaker at a luncheon Tuesday at the VARBusiness 500 Conference in New York.

Orlov said the report will offer a call to action to customers and solution providers to work more closely with institutions of higher learning to promote the viability of IT as a career and the likely need for skilled personnel over the long term.

One of the 42 CIOs surveyed by Forrester reported that high-school guidance counselors are telling college applicants not to go into the field of IT, and that parents are reinforcing that because of the tendency by companies to outsource, she said.

That risk is not as significant as once thought, given the amount of work that has to be performed and managed domestically. Service providers and integrators should be getting out there and talking up the fact that IT not only is an attractive field, but it pays better," Orlov said.

Oracle database administrators command salaries of $110,000 per year or more, while there is a significant shortage of those with expertise in Oracle Reports and Oracle Report Writer, a problem Oracle is working on with some universities and colleges.

The problem affects many other platforms as well, Orlov said. For example, the ability to do an SAP upgrade is strained by the lack of trained SAP developers and implementers, "which means this is going to be that supply and demand problem we had in the late '90s," Orlov said. "This can be averted through training, programs and certifications."

The problem exists with networking and security, among other IT disciplines. As the growing population of baby boomers reaches retirement during the next five years, this shortage will continue to get worse.

Indeed, some of the largest systems integrators attending the VARBusiness 500 Conference are well aware of the problem.

"We are working with universities and different technical facilities to deal with the skills shortage," said Chris Pyle, president and CEO of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Champion Solutions Group.

It is also changing the way some solution providers approach hiring people. During one of four roundtables held at the conference, Jim Simpson, president and CEO of Omaha-based MSI Systems Integrators, said that, until recently, his company would only hire seasoned talent.

But the shortage of such skills has forced him to rethink that strategy.

"We used to say at MSI we don't develop people, we hire people," Simpson said. "That's changed. This summer, we've got 15 interns right out of college, and we are working hard to figure out how can we take younger, less-skilled individuals and put them into our workforce. We don't think it's going to change."

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