The skills shortage is always with us. For years, the industry has complained about the difficulties of recruiting appropriately qualified people.\nDespite the recession, the sector continues to grow: the Technology Insights 2011 report from sector skills council e-skills\u00a0UK estimates that more than 550,000 new entrants over the next five years are required to fill IT and telecoms professional job roles in the UK.\nSome of these new entrants are needed to replace natural wastage of people who retire or leave the industry. But others are needed to fill new jobs: according to the report, employment in the IT industry is predicted to grow at nearly five times the UK average.\nIn June 2011, Stephen Leonard, CEO of IBM UK, told The Daily Telegraph that the company had only been able to fill 80\u00a0per cent of the 1000 technology jobs it had created in the past year.\n\u201cOur combined ability to identify, recruit and retain skilled candidates is weaker today than it has probably ever been,\u201d he said, adding that skills constituted the \u201cbiggest challenge we will face in the next five years\u201d.\nYet there are puzzling anomalies. Computer science graduates find it harder to get a job than any other group of graduates: six months after graduating, 17 per cent are still unemployed, compared to an average figure for graduates of 10 per cent, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.\nThis is despite the fact that there has been a dramatic drop in the number of computer science graduates: in 2009, only 15,000 UK residents applied to study computer science courses, compared to 27,000 in 2001.\nAsked in the e-skills UK survey what issues worried them, only three per cent of employers said they were \u201cvery concerned\u201d about the availability of skilled IT and telecoms staff.\nIt\u2019s not easy to unpick what\u2019s going on, but there are some clues. When asked where the biggest shortfall lies, most businesses aren\u2019t complaining about a lack of new graduates; instead the shortfall seems to lie in two main areas.\nOne perennial area is whichever software development skill is currently fashionable: at the moment, the biggest demand is in the areas of mobile device development, cloud computing, rich media, e-commerce, social networking and banking applications, according to recruitment agency IT Job Board.\nThe other, more significant, shortage, is of people with higher-level skills such as project management or business analysis \u2014 specifically, people who can understand the business.\n\u201cIt\u2019s very important that anyone who works in the technology side of the industry understands the business world and the value that technology can bring to the customer,\u201d says Carrie Hartnell, director of industry strategy at Intellect, which represents the UK technology industry.\n\nCarolyn Pearson, head of business systems at the BBC, says there is a shortage of good people for senior roles. \u201cWe\u2019re looking for more rounded senior project and programme managers, and not just for the theoretical ability to follow the process, but for things like emotional intelligence,\u201d she says.\nRecruitment\u2019s rush jobWhy is it so difficult to find the right kind of people for these roles?\nOne argument is that it\u2019s a result of poor recruitment practices, particularly in the contract market. Richard Forkan, a director of IT services company Plan-Net, argues that many corporates use third-party organisations working on small margins.\nGiven a detailed job description, these organisations refer it to large recruitment companies that work as fast as possible to find CVs that match the description, without looking carefully at the candidate\u2019s suitability.\n\u201cYou\u2019re encouraging them to get as many CVs as they can as quickly as they can from the market, and throw them at the job, so that they get their foot in the door with that role,\u201d says Forkan. \u201cIt doesn\u2019t encourage recruiters to say, \u2018I\u2019m going to take my time on this, let me look in some places that might not be the norm, and see what\u2019s available\u2019.\u201d\nThe consequence, says Forkan, is that poor quality candidates are recruited to roles they are unsuited for, while the CVs of highly qualified candidates may never be looked at.\nThis inability to match candidate to role may partly account for the high levels of churn in the industry. A survey this year by IT Job Board found that one in five permanent employees were planning to change jobs within the next three months, while 40 per cent of contractors were considering a complete change of career.\nPerhaps even more startling was the survey\u2019s finding that two-thirds of IT workers were considering applying or have applied for IT-related jobs outside the UK.\nAlex Farrell, managing director of IT Job Board, believes that a lot of IT staff are disillusioned by the lack of opportunities in their current roles.\n\u201cWhat they\u2019re not necessarily getting is an improvement in where they work, so they may not be getting an increase in pay or better technologies to work on. They see the jobs market increasing, and think, \u2018I\u2019m not getting what I need, therefore I\u2019m going to move\u2019.\u201d\nThe problem of retention is exacerbated by the fact that employees increasingly have different expectations of working life, says the BBC\u2019s Pearson. \u201cIt\u2019s less about jobs for life, and people are a lot more transient,\u201d she says.\nThe recession has also had an impact on the availability of permanent staff. \u201cBecause there have been so many redundancies in the last five years, a lot of people have joined the contract market and earn a lot more money. They can afford to work for six months and take some time off and do something else,\u201d Pearson adds.\nYet some employers still seem reluctant to invest long-term in recruiting and nurturing IT staff.\nThousands of entry-level jobs have gone offshore in recent years, and some multinational companies are even bringing staff from India to the UK via intra-company transfers, rather than recruiting UK graduates.\nIn May this year, the Commons Public Accounts Committee issued a strong criticism of this practice. Committee chair Margaret Hodge said: \u201cTens of thousands of IT workers have been brought in through intra-company transfers at a time when UK residents with IT skills are struggling to find work.\u201d\nThe shortage of entry-level jobs is reflected in the statistics: the proportion of IT professionals aged 16-29 has fallen from 33 per cent in 2001 to 19 per cent in 2010, according to e-skills UK, while the proportion aged over\u00a050 has increased from 10 per cent to 17\u00a0per cent over the same period.\nBut while entry-level jobs are going offshore, more senior jobs aren\u2019t. \u201cThere is a perception that it\u2019s a one-way street \u2013 everything leaves the UK and nothing comes back in, whereas a lot of firms will offshore some jobs but keep highly skilled ones here,\u201d says Intellect\u2019s Hartnell.\nBut the lack of opportunities for new IT graduates inevitably has a knock-on effect when it comes to recruiting people at a higher level, according to Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK.\n\u201cWhen you\u2019re looking for business analysts, you look around and say, \u2018Where are they all?\u2019 and you realise, \u2018We\u2019ve stopped recruiting, that\u2019s why they haven\u2019t come\u2019,\u201d she says.\n\u201cAnd I think people are recognising that if everybody is wanting to recruit, focusing on experienced hires rather than growing your own is going to lead to inordinate wage inflation and competition.\u201d\nSo if entry-level IT jobs are going abroad or to people on intra-company transfers, and if IT staff are themselves choosing to work abroad or leave the industry, how is the future shortfall in business analysts, systems architects and project managers going to be met?\nPaul Coby, CIO of John Lewis, believes there is a real problem. \u201cIf you look at the numbers, it\u2019s not possible for the growth in the IT profession to just come from new entrants and graduates and apprenticeships,\u201d he says.\n\u201cIt\u2019s really important to take people from other professions or industries that are not growing as fast and to equip them for careers in the IT or telecoms industries.\u201d\nBusiness before bytesThere is a widespread view that skills such as the ability to understand the business and to communicate effectively with others are increasingly valuable at a senior level.\nPearsonsays she already takes this approach. \u201cWe come across people who are really red hot in terms of knowing their business area, but they\u2019ve also got a technical aptitude, and quite often we\u2019ll encourage them to come and join us in technology. They often make the best business analysts that we\u2019ve had, because they fully understand the business area.\u201d\nIt is partly with this aim of attracting people from outside the industry that e-skills UK has set up the National Skills Academy for IT, which provides employees with the opportunity, for a subscription of \u00a395, to study online for industry-standard IT qualifications.\nAbout a third of the current shortfall, says e-skills UK, will need to be filled by people coming back to the profession after a career break, early retirement or unemployment.\nAt a time when people seem keener to leave the industry than to re-enter it, this may be difficult, and the industry has been slow to adopt practices such as flexible and part-time working that might encourage people to stay in or return to technology.\nA degree of optimismThat leaves the other group (and the smallest of the three) needed to make up the shortfall: entry-level graduates. In an effort to make sure new entrants have the right kinds of skills, e-skills UK, in conjunction with employers, has created the Information Technology Management for Business (ITMB) degree.\nCurrently offered by 14 universities, it aims to equip students with a set of rounded business and IT skills. Employers supporting the programme guarantee job interviews to every graduate, and two universities offering the degree said that 84 per cent of their students had secured jobs before graduating.\nThe Mayor of London\u2019s apprenticeship programme has encouraged major technology companies such as Accenture and Microsoft to launch apprenticeship schemes.\nCapgemini, a heavy recruiter in India and elsewhere, is taking part and will offer school-leavers with A-levels the opportunity, over five years, to take a BTEC level\u00a04 diploma in professional IT followed by an Open University degree in Computing and IT practice, while earning a salary. The initial intake is of 24 students, but the programme is growing.\nAnita Tilly, director of HR at Capgemini, sees it as an opportunity to create the kinds of employees needed at a more senior level.\n\u201cThey will go through a significant investment in soft and business skills training, including commercial and financial awareness, presentation and style, business writing skills, how to build effective relationships and how to work and manage within a high-performing team,\u201d she says. Meanwhile, the company is continuing to recruit new graduates in the UK.\nInitiatives such as apprenticeships and the ITMB degree are clearly admirable, and could be just what the industry needs. But on their own, they may not be enough to address the skills mismatch in an industry that has been driven for a long time by the desire to fulfil short-term goals.\nIn five years\u2019 time, can we expect another report saying that the IT skills shortage has finally been overcome? Probably best not to hold your breath.