back to article recruiting talent the number one IT problem

IT directors say their number one problem is recruiting and retaining talent. Despite this, they put flexible teleworking at the bottom of their list of priorities. That's the finding of a survey of 600 UK businesses with up to 1,000 staff by Cisco. Firms which had boosted their turnover by 15 per cent or more in the last year …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flexible working - spot on

    In the past seven years, having scouted out more than 50 companies, I have had two replies to the question "what are your flexible working policies"

    1) "What's that then ?"

    2) "We have no flexible working polices".

    it has to be said, in the public sector (well, local authority)s defence, they are enthusiastic flexible workers.

  2. Nick Kew

    A Recruiter calls ...

    [Ring Ring]

    "Hello, [me] speaking"

    "Hello, this is J. Random Recruiter. Is this a good time?"

    "Yeah, fine. What can I do you for?"

    "We've got a city financial company needs your skills, in particular [foo]"


    "Would you be available to work in The City"?

    "I work for clients around the world. The City is fine. Just so long as they don't expect my bum physically in their seat on a regular basis. Happy to travel to London occasionally - say, up to once a month."

    "They'll pay £150K for this. And that's a permie salary"

    "Great. And that'll be based on working primarily from home?"

    "No, clients won't generally do that. But you don't have to live in London, you can commute in from the country".

    "It's a minimum of five hours from here to Paddington, one way. About monthly is OK; anything much more frequent isn't. That's why I work from home, for clients around the world".

    "You find clients who are happy with that?"

    "Most of my income comes from America, which means it's losing its value. I'd welcome work coming from London."

    "And you wouldn't consider moving"?

    "Yes, but not to anywhere in SouthEast England."

    "They might be flexible on the pay".

    "The money is fine, thank you. Southeast England isn't. That's what I've escaped from, and I'm not about to go back".

    "Oh. So you wouldn't be interested?"

    "As I said, I'm happy to go up there from time to time."

    ... and it draws to a close. We haven't even discussed the work itself, beyond the recruiter having taken an interest in my CV. He can use our telecoms infrastructure to do his job (contact prospective recruits) remotely, but won't countenance the recruits themselves doing likewise.

    Not all of them say £150k (the last one I recollect did). But the shape of the conversation is remarkably predictable. I expect hacks prepared to work in central London are in a lot of demand and commanding that kind of pay because of it, while those of us who won't do it will find my tale very familiar.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Your're right: *recruiting* is the problem

    There is plenty of talent in the UK, now as always - but the recruiting system is thoroughly broken. A few of the causes:

    1. Employers looking for shortcuts. No filtering through thousands of applicants for them - instead, why not impose some unrealistic or entirely irrelevant qualifying criterion that will rule out most of the pesky creatures?

    2. Recruiters looking to make a quick buck NOW, without over-exerting themselves. Also, of course, without knowing the first thing about the field of expertise in which they are supposedly searching.

    3. Employers and recruiters who systematically undervalue real, useful knowledge and overvalue appearance, chatting skills, networking, and persuasiveness. "We can't find forensic scientists/programmers/biochemists for love nor money". Well, certainly not for the £14K/year that seems to be the going rate for many jobs these days. If you're a chairbound "decision-making" suit, on the other hand, salaries start at £100K.

    4. A culture that has always looked down on people who work with their hands. The UK has a record of technical innovation second to none, stretching way back to the 17th century or even further. But have we ever made a killing on any of our home-grown geniuses' ideas? Instead, it's usually some opportunistic American who cleans up.

  4. John A Blackley

    No big surprise there then

    That it's difficult to recruit and retain I/T talent in the UK? Wow! With one of the clunkiest, bureaucratic and inept set of recruitment practices in the world and employment conditions that a galley slave would revolt over? Say it ain't so!

    Too many UK companies rely on recruitment agencies that rely on inexperienced recruiters using keyword-matching software. Add to that the length of the hiring cycle, unresponsive recruiters and a hiring manager mindset of, "Oh, if you don't currently live on the doorstep of the office then it's just too much trouble". Perhaps you begin to see some of the root of this 'problem'.

  5. Wonderkid

    Teleworking doesn't work & will never work

    If anyone believes it is possible to be productive in an environment where you are surrounded by any or more of the following, they have another thing coming: a) A fridge full of addictive goodies b) A television capable of broadcasting material that is more entertaining than the work at hand c) Screaming children d) A needy partner e) No co-workers to seek advice and help from and to chat with to create a natural break - we are humans! A well staffed office with quiet areas has been, is and will always be the way real companies operate. And to attract loyal staff (iT or not), the following are pre-requisites: a) They must respect the company and it's management b) They must enjoy their work c) They must believe in the product and therefore be proud of being part of it. d) They must be rewarded for doing a good job - NOT for putting in hours. Hours are worthless if they are not productive. A clear head, zero distractions and an educated mind are key. And please don't anyone tell me that high definition teleconferencing systems are the way forward. They may be for board room discussions, but not for developing product. There is nothing better than crowding around a large table or white board armed with a pen or pencil.

  6. Dillon Pyron

    Offshoring driving students out of tech?

    True or not, the practice of offshoring has been driving students out of information technology fields. They don't see a long term future in jobs and go elsewhere. Whether or not offshoring is true. At least this is the case in the US, according to a study. So US businesses import talent. And guess what? Students see foreigners getting jobs at lower wages and get discouraged. Whether or not this is true. I'm sure the same applies in the UK.

  7. Alexander Hanff

    The UK is bursting with talent

    There is no lack of talented IT professionals in the UK, it is just most of us are out of work because no-one will hire us or because we have had to leave a position after companies have failed to pay us our wages.

    I wrote an entry on my Blog about the problems for IT Professionals in the UK last year, you can read it here:

  8. Markie Dussard

    Teleworking does work, and always will work ... for some

    Sitting here at home, chuckling over 'Wonderkid' and his lifestyle issues. I'll concede that if one views work as a sanctuary from the horrors of one's home life, teleworking is never going to work - for you. But don't go making stupid generalised assertions on behalf of those of us who routinely don't bother going to an office. I am quite happy working with offshore developers, global partners and disparate team members across the UK (many of whom also rarely bother with an office commute) and regularly deliver on time and to budget, bizarrely enough with fewer of the stresses and political headaches attendant to office culture.

    The IT recruitment difficulty derives from what has always plagued the IT and Telecomms business in this country - incompetent and ineffective management. I have yet to work on a project that ever failed because of a lack of technical skill. I have worked on many that failed because of management ineptitude, under-resourcing, poor planning and an inability to listen to, or understand, fairly simple concepts relating to what can and can't be done. Many technical professionals worth the name have probably used the flexibility and mobility their skills afford them to position themselves in a role that is advantageous to them, not their employer/client. I know I'm not alone in having learned from repeated experience and taken the "work life balance" decision when it was a good time to do so, planning my future according to what suits me, not what suits the whims of a clueless corporate droid.

    A system of managers that only values 'management skills' (whatever they are) inevitably leads to an environment in which recruitment is skewed away from the technically able and more towards the conformist suit. The giveaway to their cluelessness is their surprise that this should be the case. To continually repeat the same mistakes while expecting a different outcome is a symptom of stupidity.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Talent is here, but not at any price...

    This one really annoys me. Far, far too many times a month do recruiters call offering fantastic opportunities. The first question I ask currently is, what is the salary. Why? Being based in the North West, it appears that my talents are far less valuable. Senior Java head, good degree,10 years experience, up to £28K... If I had have chosen law, accounts, PLUMBING, I'm sure I'd be better rewarded. I'm not certain but suspect this survey was conducted across the UK. I suspect part of the problem in the North is that they cant find the right people because they are not willing to pay for the right people. Monkey/peanuts spring to mind.

  10. Jon Press

    Not a surprise...

    I recently moved to London after years of running my own business to take up a public sector job that had been vacant for at least 12 months owing to a "lack of suitable applicants".

    The position rapidly became vacant again. Apart from the grim, penurious horror of living in London and travelling around in the rush hour, family illness required me to travel the 300 miles back to my former home on a frequent basis. I could easily have done the job remotely but although the employer was publicly committed to flexible working, telecommuting and carbon reduction, the local managers were implaccably wedded to presenteeism - to the extent that there were several members of staff who had been present for years despite conspicuously failing to do any work noticeable to their managers or colleagues.

    I understand that interviews have been held with candidates in locations as distant as Italy and Israel to find a replacement - though on the assumption that the candidate will add to London's growing population.

    I do, however, have some sympathy with employers, despite the apparent idiocy of their position. Employment protection is a real pain now - if you take someone on you're pretty well stuck with them however incompetent they turn out to be (I know that's not strictly the case, but few managers have the time or incentives to micro-manage performance in a way a Tribunal would accept gives the employee a proper chance to improve). That means employers want employees where they can see them and are ridiculously specific in their requirements for transient but temporarily-necessary skills so they can't be seen as having saddled their company with a dead body.

    So it's not really a surprise when they can't find the staff they want. And those of us who have a choice vote with our feet.

  11. Killian

    Teleworking doesn't work!?

    "A television capable of broadcasting material that is more entertaining than the work at hand" - if you find daytime TV more interesting than your work, I can only assume you have an incredibly sh*tty job.

    Sure, if you think a good strategy for working from home invloves sitting aroung in your y-fronts scratching your nuts and watching the Teletubbies, then you will probably fail - but there are other approaches...

    Businesses certainly don't have a problem with teleworkers - they just prefer it when they're $10/hr and all the employment resposibilities are outsourced as well. While I wouldn't suggest that flexible working suits all IT roles (or all phases of a project), my experience is that in certain areas, produtivity can be increased massively by getting away from the 'distractions' of the office environment and the business in general.

    But recruitment is a huge problem right now. There are plenty of companies doing it right but if, at any point, you're interviewed by an agent/HR drone or some other suit who knows nothing about tech, you can safely bet you haven't found one of them.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lawyers or bricklayers?

    I still recall fondly a conversation I once had with a recruitment agency director, in the short period before I went in to give a presentation at an IT conference. In the five minutes we chatted, I mentioned that some experts (notably Martin Fowler) had floated the idea that programmers' work was quite similar to lawyers' in terms of complexity and importance. He replied that his clients thought of programmers as more like bricklayers. Other, clever people (presumably with arts degrees) made all the difficult decisions - presumably making them analogous to architects - after which the thick, ignorant brickies were called upon to do their job of piling one lump on top of another. (If this director had been better informed, he would have realised that bricklaying is actually a demanding skill that takes some time to learn).

    When I asked what his clients would do if no takers were forthcoming at the ridiculous pay rates they offered, he said they would be perfectly happy to postpone their IT projects until cheaper labour became available.

  13. Donald Matheson

    Teleworking does work for some

    As indicated by Markie & Killian teleworking can work very easily. I used to work in a satellite office for my current firm, but due to redundancy and people moving away as of May 2002 I was in my own in the office. There were no plans to recruit more people for the office so I started working from home as it made little sense to pay for a serviced office for just me. For most of the time since then we've lived in a one bedroom flat and I commandeered a corner of the living room for my "office" (we've since moved so I now get a room to myself). I make regular trips to the office in London down for a week at a time every couple of months. Partly so I don't go mad being on my own and partly so I'm not forgotten about which is too easy. It is easy to collaborate with colleagues on projects. It is easier for me to fit things around the working day, should I need to. I can easily start early to make up time for that dentist appointment without, if I need a slightly longer lunch to carry out some extra tasks I can take it, knowing full well I'll have started work earlier or can work a bit later and with no commuting time I don't lose personal time to do this. No-one has any complaints about my work and if anything on occasion I will end up working more than someone in the office simply because I don't need to travel anywhere.

    I do occasionally having the TV on in the background, but only for certain sporting events that are on during the day (or if I've taped them), but then given I normally listen to music whether in the office or not I equate this to be the same thing as I'm really only listening to the TV and not watching it. I specifically arranged my desk in a way so that I'm not looking directly at the TV when sitting working, again removing any temptation to sit and watch it. Even if I did, doing your work during the day comes down to simple discipline and focus. Of course if you can't focus or discipline yourself perhaps you are in the wrong job.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Recruitement monkeys, chancers and liers all over.

    As a technically competent person I have never suffered from lack of options for well paid work in the UK.

    As a manager recruiting qualified staff I have suffered from the abysmal service of recruitment agencies that spend a few minutes at most vetting candidates before passing them on to me where I see instantly from their CV that they are inappropriate, phone interview them for 5 minutes to find out they are a chancer with a CV full of lies or face to face to find out that they can talk the talk over the phone but when posed with a real hands on problem that they only have a superficial knowledge of what they claim to be an "expert" in.

    If I worked in a cookie cutter area of technology it might not be so difficult but in even moderately specialised fields your only option is often to hire someone young and keen and train them up. I've had very good success with graduates.

  15. Andy Davies

    Teleworking doesn't work!?

    "A well staffed office with quiet areas has been, is and will always be the way real companies operate. "

    and that's the way I operate, the office is well staffed by me, is quiet but has the option of a selection of music, is a few yards from my house, has roses round the door and is a very productive environment. It used to be our coal hole.

    AndyD 8-)#

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