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IT is crucial to almost every aspect of the economy – it has been estimated that over 70 per cent of jobs in Britain involve use of a computer in some way, whilst high-level computing is becoming ever-more central to the advanced industries upon which the government is relying for the future of the economy.
Just as a skills gap becomes apparent, the public sector faces further challenges all of its own. Budgets have been squeezed hard, and look likely to remain tight for years to come. At the same time, the government is looking to open public procurement up to more small businesses, including in IT, which will need careful management.
What does all this mean for public sector IT recruitment? As growth returns and demand intensifies, the market for IT skills will once again become candidate-led. Competition for the brightest will become fierce, allowing those with the strongest skills to dictate terms to employers and making it harder for local and central government bodies to offer pay remotely comparable to that available from private businesses.
The REC’s Report on Jobs has shown demand for IT workers growing faster than almost all other parts of the economy since the end of the recession. The skills shortage is already beginning to take effect.
The changing nature of it demand
There are two seemingly conflicting demands being placed on public sector IT managers.The Coalition Government has demanded that duplication be eradicated, and that common systems be developed and shared across the public sector. Yet it has also demanded that the reliance on large, single contracts be dropped and a more diverse range of smaller companies be allowed to compete to deliver projects.
The recent decision to cancel once and for all the national NHS IT programme that was initiated by the previous government highlights the tensions such an approach brings.
Allowing individual health trusts around the country to procure their own IT will allow greater flexibility and likely save money, whilst also potentially helping more SMEs win contracts. However it also risks duplication of work across the country and a failure to create systems which can share patient data between regions, one of the promised benefits of the national approach.
If, as the NHS decision suggests, the desire for smaller, more localised projects is winning out, the public sector will need to draw on a larger, more diverse IT workforce than it has sought before, just as these skills become harder than ever before to source.
Long-term skills shortage
The REC’s Technology sector group, comprised of recruiters working in the IT and communications field, has recently commissioned research, due to be launched during October, into the failure to entice young people into a career in IT and the long-term effects this will have.
The statistics show a worrying drop in the number of young people looking to enter IT as a career, at all stages of the education system.
The number of students taking a GCSE in IT fell by 17 per cent in 2010 alone, whilst the number of Computing A-Levels taken has fallen by 60 per cent since 2003. Perhaps most worryingly for employers, including the public sector, the number of applications for degrees in computing has fallen by 33 per cent since 2002, at a time when applications for STEM subjects as a whole has increased by 23 per cent. Strikingly, of this falling number of qualified candidates, only 42 per cent of computing graduates go on to enter the UK IT industry.
There is clearly major long-term action that needs to be taken by government, industry, the education system and public sector employers to make young people realise that IT can be an interesting, fulfilling career path. A perception has been allowed to develop that IT is boring, nerdy and uncool, which has to be challenged.
However, this is a long-term solution, when the problem is clearly already here. The pool of new, highly-skilled IT candidates is shrinking, just as competition from the private sector is growing again.
Need for leaders
Some skills are of course more in demand than others and the public sector is likely to find it particularly difficult to compete with the private sector for these. The following positions are already being reported as taking much longer to fill: systems auditors, systems developers, business analysts, project managers, senior test analysts and development team leaders.
It is clearly managerial, leadership roles that are showing the first effects of the squeeze on supply. Project managers, development team leaders, business analysts and other high-level positions are crucial to the success of an organisation.
Worryingly, these are precisely the skills that the public sector is going to need in abundance if the government’s desire for a more diverse, localised landscape of IT projects is to be fulfilled. If the public sector cannot find leaders to recognise IT needs and sculpt plans to deliver these, it will struggle to deliver any improvements in efficiency and effectiveness.
Recruiters can help
If this article has been pushing you to despair, however, there is no need to lose hope!
In a world of shrinking supply and growing demand, finding the right candidate (or indeed any candidate) will take more time and effort than many public organisations will be able to spare, particularly as budgets remain tight.
What then can be done? Recruitment agencies can provide the solution. They allow an organisation to focus on its true goals, whilst bringing their professional expertise to finding the right candidate in a more cost-effective way. They provide access to a wider pool of talent than an organisation can search by itself, and can use their insight and experience to pick out those few most suited to the role.
Why choose an rec member?
The economic and time benefits of using a recruiter are clear and well established. However, we recognise that there is still uncertainty about using them in some quarters. Organisations rightfully feel that having the right staff is absolutely central to success, and are wary of allowing other people to influence who they hire.
This is why the REC places absolute priority on ensuring the highest standards amongst our members. We have a rigorous Code of Professional Conduct to which all our members must adhere. Our Code demands respect for honesty, transparency, diversity, safety, confidentiality and the law in all our members’ interactions with clients. It is a promise of professionalism and ethics in recruitment.
Our code is backed up by a three-part system of redress, ensuring that you can have confidence in any dealing with an REC member.
A core requirement of our code is that all members have in place a rigorous complaints procedure, for any instance in which a client or candidate feel they have been let down.
However, if they feel that this has not given a satisfactory result, they can turn to the REC’s own Complaints and Disciplinary Procedure. If a complaint is of a serious enough manner, it can then be referred to the Professional Standards Committee.
The Professional Standards Committee is comprised of senior members of the recruitment industry, as well as representatives from the CBI and the TUC. It has the power to issue compliance orders, demand inspections, reprimand members, and even expel them from the REC.
With nearly 4,000 members, sharing over 75 per cent of the recruitment industry’s turnover between them, the REC is the voice of recruitment in the UK. Our relentless focus on professionalism and high standards is why you should always make sure to choose an REC member when looking for professional help recruiting, so you can have confidence in the outcome.
As we have seen, the immediate future for public sector IT provision does not look as bright as it could. Shrinking budgets, falling supply (and so rising costs) of the skills needed, conflicting demands from Ministers and long-term fears over the strength of IT education, all combine to create some dark, foreboding clouds.
The efficient use of time and resources will be absolutely vital in the face of this, as will clear strategy and thoughtful planning.
Recruiters can not only play a vital role in taking the burden of search and selection from organisations, they can also be a crucial asset when it comes to workforce planning.
Experienced recruiters have spent years learning how to understand the real needs of an organisation. They will take the time to help you align your staffing needs to your strategic goals several years in advance, and work through with you how to meet these needs as cost-effectively as possible.
Finding the best IT staff is already hard, and looks sure to get harder in the next few years. But, by enlisting the help of a professional recruiter, you can give yourself the best chance of finding the right person to take your team to the next level.
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Since 1997 e3 have worked with many government agencies, departments and NGO’s including The Environment Agency, National Archives, Natural England, Civil Service Learning, English Heritage, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Dept. of Work and Pensions and the Border and Immigration Agency.