With the huge drive to retain and develop skills among ICT players, Ashley Ellington, MD: Softline Enterprise, believes that the industry needs to work to collectively ensure that employees and graduates are guided along career paths that suit them.

The difficulty in developing IT skills is the length of time this requires. Because of the flexibility of applications, it takes a long time to become familiar with the functionality and processes associated with each. In our world you need to know these intimately in order to work with them and manipulate them depending on the specific customer’s needs.
This is something that correspondingly requires a substantial period of time during which you need to work very closely with the application. There isn’t a manual you can just buy and read for instance. Practical experience is what makes all the difference.
While more and more graduates are entering the field and thus will definitely make an impact in terms of filling the “gaps”, due to the time factor involved, this will only be felt in the longer term. It’s thus imperative that the industry takes a collective look at what skills are needed both now and in the future in order to comprehensively address the challenge.
We can’t afford to be short-sighted when it comes to skills development. Ours is a dynamic sector with new developments creating new skills needs all the time. We have to make sure that the people we’re training today have the skills we will need tomorrow.
I feel that a definite means of doing this is by establishing feeding programmes, such as the one Softline is currently creating, that channel graduates to the jobs to which they are the best-suited. Natural aptitudes and certain types of personalities draw a certain profile of person to specific jobs.
While I’m not suggesting that we put people in boxes, what Softline is definitely going to be looking at is separating pre-conceptions about the job from the reality of the job. Essentially thus making sure it’s assisting graduates to embark on long and fulfilling careers in the industry, as opposed to allowing them to dabble in things they’re not really passionate about.
In tandem with this, IT companies need to start focusing on creating an environment that retains the very skills it’s trying so hard to develop. It’s critical that we listen to our employees and engage with them regarding what would make them happier at work – how we can accommodate them and their needs better.
Our industry is in the fortunate position of being one where the eight hours people work during the day don’t have to fall between 8am and 5pm. We need to adjust our policies accordingly and become more flexible. The business can also benefit by allowing employees to work flexi-time in an application support role for example.  They can thus choose to arrive and leave early while others may choose to arrive later and leave later. This allows us to offer support and services over and above the normal working hours of our customers.
While job satisfaction would go a long way in retaining staff and skills in my view, I believe the industry also needs to look at the effect of the demand for skills on the cost of the resources. If we could collectively agree on a ceiling salary level for certain skills, we could stop the to-ing and fro-ing between industry players. By stabilising the market and skills base, we could address costs accordingly.
With the skills debate promising to continue being an emotive and subjective issue, a collective and more formalised approach to addressing the problem could lead to more effective solutions. Communication would appear to be crucial then in helping graduates and entry-level employees decide upon their future – and ensuring that the career they embark upon is a long and fulfilling one.