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For some years now, I have been seeing a reasonably large number of articles about the “impending skills shortage” in IT.

Based partly on my own recent experience and also on that of numerous IT practitioners I have interacted with in recent months, I have come to several startling conclusions, and this blog is intended to acquaint its’ readers with them and hopefully spark some discussion about this subject.

There are numerous articles already posted about this skills shortage, such as:

Canada needs 182,000 people to fill these IT positions by 2019 — IT World Canada

Why Canada has an 182,000 IT talent shortage while lots of tech professionals are out of work — IT World Canada

Tackling the IT skills shortage — The British Computer Society

Why Canadian employers are worried about an IT skills shortage in 2016 — Inteqna, IT Recruitment Specialists

As interesting as these articles are, they miss two overriding facts of finding IT practitioners to fill these perceived gaps, and those are:

  1. The unwillingness of prospective employers to understand that the combination of skills that they are looking for in a single individual simply cannot exist.
  2. The expectation that individuals with anything approaching the required skill sets are not going to apply for (or stay in) a job at the salary levels being offered.

I will be addressing both of those points in detail in upcoming blogs, but for now, I will cap with the salient points.

In the area of the first fact, I have been reviewing numerous job postings published recently and have noticed that there are quite a number of postings that require combinations of advanced skills which are almost impossible for a single individual to achieve. These include general things like:

  • 5+ years experience as a senior security specialist
  • 5+ years as a senior infrastructure specialist
  • 5+ years as a senior virtualization specialist
  • 5+ years as a senior server specialist
  • 5+ years as a senior database specialist

To make matters worse, I have commonly seen postings that demand combinations of three or more of the above requirements! Now, discounting that it takes time and work experience to move to a senior level in even one of those classifications, it is apparent that an individual who has actually attained three of those qualifications would have to be at least 35 years’ old, plus whatever time it took him/her to reach senior level in each of the three categories!

In addition to this, the postings often require specific certifications which, if taken together, would require the individual to be a full-time student, doing nothing but studying and taking exams! One recent posting I came across required multiple Microsoft specialist certifications (MCSE; MCITP; Exchange and PowerPoint, etc.); VMware VCP and Cisco CCNP. To make things even more interesting, in the ‘nice to have’ category, they casually threw in both CISSP and CCIE!

Now, anyone with any knowledge of IT certifications at all would know that for any individual to hold all of those credentials would be an exceptional achievement in and of itself. In fact, if anyone like that could be found, I expect that several of those credentials would have to be ‘paper’ certifications, ie. the individual crammed for the tests and achieved the credential with little or no practical experience. The time, training requirements and verified experience required for the high-end qualifications (CISSP and CCIE), would virtually demand that being the case.

This leads me to the second point I made, which is that the prospective employer then expects to hire an individual with those inflated technical requirements at a median salary! The position I mentioned above was offering a salary range of $85,000 to 95,000 per annum depending on experience! It does not take a lot of research to find published studies on the remuneration currently being offered for those certifications to find that holding the CISSP alone commands an annual salary of over $105,000, and holders of the CCIE are usually in the range of $140,000+ per annum.

This job posting has been in existence for over three months now, so is this because there is a skills shortage? I would be willing to bet that if anyone polled this employer, their answer would be an emphatic yes. In reality of course, it is the inflated expectations of the potential employer and the low salary offered that has created the perceived skills shortage!

In the employers’ defense, this type of situation often comes about because a ‘baby boomer’ employee with years of experience and abundant time during their career to achieve credentials has recently retired and the HR department is now looking for a replacement. During that process, the employer looks at the skills of the former employee (all of which have been attained during an extended career) and then tries to find a new employee that embodies all of those skills. Of course, as a new employee, the employer does not expect to pay the same salary as the recently-retired one as the old one had earned annual salary increases for performance and the new employee is essentially untried.

By and large, those individuals who are highly-experienced and heavily certified, know their worth and many of those are not interested in working at median wages for an employer who has no idea of what the job entails.

So, is there a skills shortage?

I believe that there is a perceived skills shortage, caused by over-inflated expectations and exacerbated by low salaries. In fact the skilled people are out there. One only needs a realistic approach to find them.

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