How can we fix the global IT skills shortage?

Young people in the west haven't been taking up IT, and trained professionals are approaching retirement age


Rod Flavell, Sheila Flavell, and Andy Brown from professional IT and business services company FDM Group discuss the challenges facing IT organisations today, confront the topic of diversity, and explain the latest trends in the IT services sector.

World Finance: Digital innovation is leading the agenda for technology and business leaders. But sometimes development can outpace skills, and companies are finding it tricky to stay ahead of the innovation curve. With me now are Rod Flavell, Sheila Flavell and Andy Brown from the professional IT and business services company FDM Group to discuss how to bridge this gap.

Well Rod, if I might start with you: there’s no doubt that there’s a global IT skills shortage; why is this, and how detrimental is it to businesses?

Rod Flavell: Yes, it’s a real problem for businesses. I think we can trace the genesis of this back to globalisation. The move of companies pushing skills out to India meant that young people in America, in the UK, and other parts of the world, didn’t take up IT in the last 25 years.

Add on top of that the ageing population of IT workers; you have to remember the big boom of IT was back in the 60s and 70s. And all those folks now are coming to the end of their working career.

Finally, cloud computing and digitalisation: so much of the new agenda just fundamentally isn’t really understood yet. We’re using new technology, and there just fundamentally aren’t enough people with skills in that space.

So FDM of course works very very hard to help customers at least make a successful series of choices when they actually look at where they locate projects, and the type of people they bring on board.

World Finance: Well you have offices all over the world, so how does the skill-set differ between countries? Who would you say is really leading the way, and how do you adapt to the challenges of different countries?

Rod Flavell: There isn’t anybody leading the way, because the way is being constantly evolved and innovated.

America and the UK seem to work hand-in-glove: most technology originates in America, certainly software. The Brits have always had a huge culture in programming, in systems development.

But equally, we’re now seeing China come to play. And they have incredible manpower, and they’re very, very bright people: they’ve got into science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills. They’re sending a lot of their kids over to the west, so that their English language skills improve. And consequently they’re becoming a real player on the world stage of IT.

So if you look at the challenges that we face as a business, it’s largely around bi-lingual skills. Obviously English is key; the core for us is to make sure the English language skill of a potential recruit is up there. Then obviously we’ve got to look at their technical competency, and there’s a rigorous assessment process that we put folks through.

World Finance: Well Andy, over to you now: how important is it for a company to develop the skills of its workers, considering they might leave once trained up? Surely a company should just employ already skilled workers?

Andy Brown: I think it’s imperative that organisations invest in developing skills for their employees, because I think that ensures that they’re valued by the organisation. And I think there’s a lot of benefits from investing, as well as getting the balance right between bringing existing skills into the organisation. So getting that balance right is imperative.

That goes to the heart of what FDM is about, in terms of investing in new talent coming from academia, universities, primarily STEM courses. They’ve got a lot of the theoretical understanding of technology, but without the practical application.

And FDM focuses on giving them the vocational skills to survive in an IT career.

World Finance: And Sheila, does diversity actually make a difference in tech?

Sheila Flavell: Absolutely Jenny: it promotes creativity, and obviously more flexibility.

There’s a misconception out there that diversity is all about gender and race. But in fact it’s not. At FDM we have 60 different nationalities working for us, and 50 percent of our management team are women – so we do tick those boxes. But diversity’s about a whole lot more than that.

Diversity’s also about different socio-economic backgrounds, about different religions, different educations. And different ways of working.

At FDM we’re striving to ensure that we have a wholly diverse workforce. And if we can get that right, then we will have much greater success than we’ve ever dreamed of.

World Finance: And Rod, cyber-security is a major concern for all companies; what advice do you offer in this area?

Rod Flavell: There’s two things with cyber-security. One is the physical, and the other is the software environment. If companies don’t have their physical people security correct in the first place, they will have a huge problem. You cannot have a successful breach of a system without somebody actually on the ground, on the inside.

Secondly, it’s the software environment that you run. And fortunately, organisations are now becoming really sharp at this. But you’ve got to marry the two things together: you have to have an inclusive strategy, the whole of the organisation has to buy into it. And if they do, you should be able to prevent most threats.

World Finance: Andy, you offer a lot of IT support for investment banks. How is fin-tech changing, and how do you stay on top of the latest developments?

Andy Brown: We’re probably seeing about three themes emerging. First one is probably greater focus on compliance risk and government projects which are coming through. Projects like airmail, KYC, financial crime, for instance; we’ve developed a nice programme quite recently around compliance and the behaviours that are required. So we’re meeting a lot of the stringent standards that the banks are demanding for compliance projects.

The second theme that we’re seeing is really continued pressure on costs, which I think is just a general theme across the industry, not just fin-tech and investment banking. The third one is really differentiating technology for the banks, as well.

FDM’s focusing on both those at the same time. Whereas we’re working on with a lot of the banks around more commodity and utility type services. That is enabling the banks to release some of their experienced people to work on more differentiating technology such as pricing engines, for instance.

World Finance: Well finally Rod, back to you now: what trends are you seeing in your industry, and how do you foresee the IT services sector developing in the coming years?

Rod Flavell: Yes, it’s a phenomenal place. I’ve had nearly 40 years in this industry, and if you think back, you had to be a small country to afford a computer. Now you walk around with them on your wrist.

The dynamism, the change: technology has never been more present, prevalent. We all have it, we’re all going to use more of it. Certainly we’re going to see huge changes. How’s that going to work as far as skills, manpower shortages? I think Sheila touched on it: you’ve got to look at this diversity space.

If you’re not bringing women into a technical environment, where 50 percent of your consumers are ladies – and you don’t match that in your IT organisations – well, you’re selling your business short. So we’re going to see huge changes in that.

I think finally, it’s that big question mark. IT continually reinvents itself. There’s always going to be something new and different that’s going to give us a huge leap forward around the corner. We don’t quite know what it’s going to be, but you know, you can hazard a guess. Things like quantum computing are trailed out there. I think if they get that right, we could be on the dawn of some incredible innovation in the future.