Is the Skills Gap Real or a Ruse? IT Pros Sound Off

Reader response to Jeff Moads Last Word column "Why IT Pros Cant Get Jobs."

Dear eWEEK:

I see another factor, similar to the dot-com boom and bust, at work here. Just as many dot-commers managed to convince investors and themselves that they were actually viable businesses when, in reality, they were anything but, many so-called IT professionals deluded themselves into [believing their own] affected titles in an era of easy money when employers were more willing to tolerate inflated résumés and the resulting inequities of pay vs. performance.

Having worked closely with many IT professionals in my field, I have become very skeptical of the résumés that cross my desk. Ive seen too many programmers who can just manage to cobble code together with no hint of even such fundamental concepts as structured programming, let alone anything like event-driven or object-oriented.

We just managed to get rid of a few of these types. They saw themselves as seasoned professionals, real heavyweights, and their résumés and compensation expectations reflected that. None of them ever accomplished any thing at all to speak of.

Remember the desktop-publishing wave of the 80s? They all thought of themselves as IT professionals, too. Get serious! They may have been savvy users, but nothing more. Today, the same sort of savvy users are called web-page designers and system/network administrators. They fail to understand that they just arent "all that."

Yes, there is a skills gap, even though there are a ½ million IT workers available and that many jobs open. This is because employers are insisting on a very EXACT match of needs and capabilities.

Employers are looking for people [who] are experienced in the specific technical and administrative skills of the job. This way they can be productive very soon. Also, they are looking for "winners" to reduce the risk of a bad hire. Workers that want that specific job, that will work extra hard to succeed in it and are going to stick around are what employers want.

Marcus Rhodes
Chief Executive Officer
The Training Associates

Dear eWEEK:

From my experience, the answer to your question about IT pros not getting hired stems less from lack of IT skills, and more from lack of hiring skills.

Most companies that I am familiar with dont know how to hire IT personnel, a problem endemic with a user base that is wholly ignorant of the computing equipment upon which their businesses rely …

If you look at the way jobs are advertised, it becomes clear that hiring managers are in a fog as to what type of person they need to hire, so they … cut and paste a mushy description of the previous employees duties and skills, hoping someone will send in a résumé that matches the job description.

I am continually explaining networking restrictions and potentials to an upper management structure that believes networking is just plugging in computers, similar to switching on the Windows XP system they use at home when they want to IM all their buddies on AOL. Switching, frame relay, DNS, redundancy, subnetting ... all completely lost on a non-technical crowd. It is an amazing disconnect.

This is only part of the problem, however. A lot of the blame also falls on [IT professionals] with poor communication and job hunting skills. Poorly written résumés, bad interviewing abilities, and lack of mobility kill more job prospects than any other factor. These jobs can be filled, but applicants have to be aggressive.


Dear eWEEK:

You left out perhaps the biggest reason why IT pros are stuck. That is the unwillingness for companies to train people in new skill sets, as well as employee unwillingness to go through retraining.

These companies want employees that are up to speed before they come on board--any delay due to training can delay the launch of a product, burn excess capital or just provide annoyance. People are left constantly having to pay for their own schooling and taking time outside of their current employment to change skill sets again and again.

Also, there are a lot of IT employees that just dont want to keep learning new things rather than maintaining a current skills base at their chosen profession. Trainees dont get paid as much, and start lower on the totem pole too.

There is no easy answer for a world where you might have to learn the equivalent of another AS or BS every four to five years just to remain employable.

Richard Halter
Sales manager
Bellevue Computer

Dear eWEEK:

I totally agree to what you said, "I dont buy the so-called skills gap as the reason enterprises arent hiring IT workers. The skills are there, but enterprises are determined to squeeze more productivity out of current employees."

However, I would like to add a few more.

A) IT workers here get paid too much comparing to what they deliver. A lot them write lousy code, delay projects again and again, and yet they still [make] over $70,000 a year.

B) IT is getting commoditized, which means a lot development work can be done offshore with much cheaper costs. … My humble prediction: Five to 10 years from now, most IT jobs will be shifted to other countries like India, China and Russia. Look at what happened in the auto industry. It will happen to IT at an even quicker pace. … I feel pressured and threatened as an IT worker in the U.S. But I will adjust myself and find a way to deal with it.

Haibo Hu

Dear eWEEK:

Im disappointed in your argument against the validity of a report that many IT jobs will go unfilled due to a skills shortfall. Its easy to simply blow it off with "I dont buy it," but in fact I have experienced this apparent dilemma from both sides firsthand. Just because IT workers were laid off does not solve the problem of a chronic skills deficit. In fact, todays tight budgets call for increased scrutiny of hires to the point of demanding a more precise skill fit and demonstrated capability.

I have found that there are plenty of narrowly skilled IT employees who feel they deserve jobs just because "the jobs were there yesterday" or "this is supposed to be a growth industry, what happened?"

Frankly the money is simply not there in most budgets for a "close fit" or someone to "grow into a position."

I have coached many IT workers with something my father told me …: The hiring equation is very simple. You either find the job that fits your skills or get the skills that fit the available work. Then work like crazy at whatever job you are able to land. In this case it may take you beyond what you did in your previous jobs.

Excuses will not help you get over it, get busy, or get a job.

I also surfed the high waves of the IT boom and was then forced to change jobs. … And, as someone who has hired good IT people and was then forced for good business reasons to let them go, Id submit that your article adds little to help answer the real question of "Why IT Pros Cant Get Jobs" and plays into a whining search for excuses that does a disservice to many good people.


Dear eWEEK:

I read your story with interest. I have been laid off for the past eight months and have been looking for a job since last July. I was the victim of a dot-com bankruptcy.

I too have been hearing about the so-called skills shortage lately. I have been thinking about it because to me it just doesnt make sense. When a lot of my friends who are senior IT people are out of work, there just cant be a shortage of skills.

My problem has been this. The people doing the recruiting are asking for the moon. They are not technical people and cannot understand that if you studied the theory behind relational databases that you can apply the theory to Oracle, Ingres, Sybase, and ramp up in a short time period. I think what has happened is the vast numbers of IT people graduating from 10-month technical colleges have really hurt the people who have university degrees in the field, because these people have no theoretical background. So employers grew to demand only the particular skill set they needed. … There is no skills shortage, there is a shortage of good recruitment people and companies who will hire outside the narrow little skill set they have defined for a particular position.

If things were like this after I graduated in 1985 I never ever would have found employment in the IT industry, and sometimes I wonder if I ever will again.


Dear eWEEK:

Im ready to agree with your assertion because the numbers seem to say that laid-off IT workers should have been back to work the next day.

But in the back of my mind, I wonder if there is some other "dynamic" at work here. I mean, Ive been reading want ads (print and electronic) for 10 months. And I have the feeling that many of the ads are seeking a person that doesnt exist. Nobody can be skilled in the laundry list of tech items that are listed in these ads. The expectations of the companies are unrealistic to begin with--they want to hire one person who is skilled in a dozen marginally related areas instead of the two (or three) that they actually need. ... This could be partly the result of the complexity of the field in general and partly because of short-sightedness. (As in they are only budgeting for one additional employee, period.)

I had a phone interview with a company in Kent, Wash., the other day. I happened to be in front of the computer when the HR person called, so I pulled up my copy of their print ad. It was a small ad looking for a SQL Server programmer. I responded because I have done SQL Server programming--Ive written applications that invoke stored procedures and functions (that Ive also written) to create data sets that my app works on. My résumé speaks of this, yet there I was in the final group of 10 that they wanted to hire from. The HR guy read me the complete description of the job, and it was evident that they werent looking for a programmer but for a DBA with probably five or six years experience. As it happened, when I ended the interview, I told him that they were probably looking for two people, not one. This company didnt know what they were looking for, so how will they know when theyve found someone?

Rob Jones