A persistent bias in favour of university qualifications over technikons, coupled to a growing perception that tertiary education standards are dropping at some institutions, is compounding the recruitment crisis in the IT industry.
Lara Pienaar, senior IT recruitment consultant of Network IT Recruitment, says that the IT industry is adding to its own woes by basing its employment policies on the prerequisite of a university degree from a few selected universities.
“The industry already faces a range of issues, including a critical shortage of skills, inflated salaries and employees who frequently change jobs, yet many companies are not prepared to broaden their horizons when it comes to recruitment,” she says.
“Over 20 years in the field of IT recruitment has taught us that candidates with a diploma from a technikon are also an excellent choice because their qualification has the edge when it comes to practical knowledge and application, yet many of our clients won’t even look at their CVs.
"Moreover, many companies have voiced concern about a perceived lowering of standards at some universities, and are becoming even more prescriptive about the origin of the candidates’ degrees.
“This narrow focus is surprising – particularly in light of the critical skills shortage in the IT industry – and it is counter-productive,” she says.
“We see candidates who are equally competent, regardless of whether they graduated from a technikon, a ‘blue-chip’ university or a distance-learning institution. We also see highly skilled candidates who haven’t completed formal education but who have years of invaluable practical experience – and the playing fields should be levelled.”
By way of illustration, almost 70% of candidates placed by Network IT Recruitment in the first quarter of 2011 had university degrees.
“With skills in high demand and huge pressure on companies to complete projects within deadline to avoid penalties, it means that our clients end up overpaying skilled candidates, which in turn results in great difficulty for a candidate to move at a later stage. The scenario could be quite different if employers were prepared to consider applicants whose qualifications were outside of their prescribed framework.”
Further fall-out from the skills shortage and recruitment policies is that many IT specialists "job-hop". To counter this, there has been a marked trend in recent months for candidates to sign restraint contracts, specifically in instances where companies paid for technical certifications. Companies are also being forced to offer greater financial incentives to IT personnel to encourage loyalty and staff retention.
In Pienaar’s view, a great deal of high quality IT candidates are being denied the opportunity to tell their story.
“The prospective employers won’t even consider their CVs, let alone grant them an interview. Frankly, employers are shooting themselves in the foot. However, I believe it’s only a matter of time before the situation reaches tipping point, and companies will be forced to broaden their recruitment policies. Let’s not forget that Bill Gates was a university drop-out,” Pienaar concludes.