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Staffing partnerships – helping to navigate the IT skills crisis

The lack of tech and IT skills is reaching crisis point for British businesses. The latest research from CompTIA found that 44 per cent of IT executives believe that a lack of digital skills is negatively affecting productivity while 27 per cent said that a lack of skilled technical staff is slowing speed to market. 

Virtually no industry is exempt from this shortage and for many IT departments, running below headcount is now the new normal. Moreover, many companies find it hard to recruit IT specialists when that isn’t their core area. To alleviate the burden, HR departments should be looking to find trusted partners to whom they can outsource key staffing functions and avoid wasting time on unproductive searching.  

Minimising the technical skill shortage
The popularity of various programming languages fluctuates and can have a big impact on how easy it is to bring in new staff. Reviewing market tracker IT Jobs Watch shows the level of variation in demand between different programming languages. Looking for a new SQL developer might be an expensive business at an average salary of £45,000 but they are also some of the most common, with thousands of trained users currently working. In comparison, finding a Smalltalk developer at short notice can be nigh-on impossible. Finding the right person, managing them through the process and getting them on-board can easily be weeks or even months of work.

This is a major issue for both HR and IT departments because, although languages such as Smalltalk are now outdated, many companies still have legacy systems which rely heavily on such languages and finding proficient developers is increasingly problematic. Although many organisations are engaged in IT transformation projects to replace these core systems with new, cutting edge ones there is still a huge amount of inertia. The fact that 30 per cent of businesses failed to get together any Windows Server 2003 end-of-life replacement strategy demonstrates the scale of the legacy issue.

Given that finding the right candidate with the requisite programming language skills is not a certainty, even for popular languages such as Java or C#, enterprises need shift their mind-set away from recruiting only when absolutely necessary and instead make sure they are continually tuned in to the market to avoid missing much-needed talent.

HR departments are coping with numerous internal demands on a continual basis, including training and performance reviews, so relying on a partner to assist with the staffing solutions makes sense. Rather than endlessly scanning job boards or headhunting potential candidates without any guarantee of success, HRs can focus on internal training to reduce any critical skill shortages and disperse knowledge throughout the organisation, leaving more external staffing to trusted partners.

The true value of partnership
The real potential of working with a trusted staffing partner comes when they really know and understand your business, the culture and ethos you’ve created and the type of personalities that will add the most value. A good example of a well-functioning relationship is a the partner sending over a CV knowing that the candidate has the right skills and personality to perfectly fit the Business Intelligence team. 

Once a trusted agency knows the business to this degree, HR should take full advantage of their knowledge. There should be regular communication about the plans moving forward so HR can pick up valuable market information. I’ve spoken with countless managers about the challenges that choosing one technology over another might bring. Want to go with an unstructured database rather than a relational one? Great, but Hadoop specialists are much rarer than SQL programmers at the moment. That shouldn’t necessarily discourage a business from making the right technical choice, but it’s vital to make sure that the decision is made with full knowledge of the implications in such a demand-driven market.

Ultimately the role of a staffing partner is  to assist overstretched HR departments handle the external side of the recruitment process, particularly for challenging roles, freeing up more time for the HR teams to focus on their vital work. With the demand for IT staff set to far outstrip supply for the foreseeable future, there is no question that searching for niche skills is better off being handled externally. But HR departments need to be looking beyond a merely transactional relationship and find a genuinely trusted partner who is able to fully understand the business and provide relevant and timely market advice. Enterprises that develop these relationships will be best placed to navigate the IT skills shortage crisis that Britain is facing.
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