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Tue 1 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Skills shortage

Unless networking skills development gets a rapid boost in the Middle East, economic growth in different countries throughout the region could be impacted significantly. ACN reports on a recent IDC-Cisco survey.

|~|skills200.jpg|~|Alkharrat: The skills gap
is widening and threatens regional growth. |~|By 2009, only 65% of the 114,000 job vacancies for skilled IT professionals will be filled in the Middle East. This is because of a growing IT skills gap. And by 2015, that skills shortfall could widen to 50% threatening the economic growth of some countries.

The warning follows a seven-country Middle East and Pakistan IDC Networking Skills survey commissioned by Cisco Systems.

IDC expects the ongoing economic expansion in the region to have a strong impact on ICT demand, which it forecasts as increasing at a compound annual growth rate of more than 16.9% between 2005 and 2009.

“Organisations are now, more than ever, interconnected entities that depend on the network for integration with their business partners. Not having sufficient networking skills available for this integration influences the competitiveness of not only organisations, but for the country as a whole,” says Phillip van Heerden, senior analyst, IDC.

According to Samer Alkharrat, general manager, Cisco Systems Gulf Region, the average supply and demand gap for the 50,000 skilled IT professionals required in the region at the end of last year when the survey of 210 CIOs was taken, was around 27%. It could rise to 35% by 2009.

And he warns that unless businesses and governments throughout the region tackle the issue of IT education soon, then the skills gap could stymie economic growth plans.

“The percentage is going up. The gap between supply and demand is going up. Obviously this varies country to country, but, on average, a 35% shortfall is a pretty big gap to address when you are growing your industry and when technology or IT plays a major role,” he says.

“It’s critical to any nation’s well-being, or any GDP growth, or any significant economic growth in any country when attributed to or tied to the use of technology. If you cannot adopt technology in a particular country, then basically you are less competitive and more vulnerable. You’re prone to be slowed down in terms of your competitiveness and readiness. So having the skilled force and having the skills in country will actually help accelerate the economic evolution of the country,” he adds.

The same study carried out across Western and Eastern Europe found an average networking skills gap of 11.8% by 2008.

The purpose of the Middle East survey, which included large and medium sized enterprises, telcos and SMBs in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan, was to determine the size of the IT and networking skills gap and project it to 2009.

Some of the countries surveyed had more of a problem than others. Most of the Gulf countries with the exception of Kuwait had between a 20% and 30% IT skills gap. Pakistan had a 30% to 40% gap. By 2009, the projections were that all countries surveyed, with the exception of the UAE would be above 30%, with some approaching 40%. Jordan, Kuwait and Pakistan were expected to be in worse shape than today unless more initiatives are taken to address this problem.

“If you take the projected figures up to 2015, it gets worse and worse and in some countries the gap gets up to 50%. That’s a serious problem. That basically stops a lot of projects from taking place; it stops the market from moving in the right direction,” says Alkharrat.||**|||~|skillsother200.jpg|~|Alkharrat: Growing skills shortage in advanced networking.|~|With 99% of the respondents indicating they use email or access the internet, the use of networks in the region plays an important role in everyday business life and means they have an IT skills requirement, he says.

The survey found the reach of the infrastructure or the network to be growing fast. Every respondent said that their use of the network would increase in the future and its importance would become far more relevant to the business in the future.

Nearly 75% said the proportion of IT network spend would increase relative to total IT spend over the next two years, and 63% expect to increase the number of networking skills employed. Of those that had hired people last year, 77% found it difficult to hire people with the right skills. In Education and Government, almost 100% had difficulty finding the right people.

The policy within most countries of increasing the proportion of nationals employed in key sectors would also affect the skills gap. Currently, the percentage of nationals employed at the surveyed companies is 60%. This is expected to go up to 70% by 2009.

“More nationals are going to be required to be skilled. So it’s not just a case of finding international or expatriate resources. The ex-pat and international percentages are shrinking in favour of having a more local skilled workforce,” he says.

While there are a number of regional initiatives currently underway in the UAE to promote further training in science and technology, the gaps forecasted by the survey highlight the need for more work to be done to provide the right training courses and to encourage student enrolment.

The study findings represent a call to action to governments, the private sector, educators and individuals to do more to address these needs. If plans are not put into place now, technology adoption, business competitiveness and market growth will be placed at risk.

“We need to continue to work with the Governments of these countries to raise awareness of employment opportunities across the regions, and encourage students to learn and develop both basic and advanced networking technology skills,” says Alkharrat.

While the UAE was shown to be the country with the smallest skills gap, the actual numbers were still big, he adds saying that by 2009 the UAE will be short of 19,000 people with IT skills.

“When you look at the gap for advanced technical skills, the gap is wider. The skills we’re talking about are not just installing, designing or supporting foundation technologies like IP networks, switched network, or the internet. This is basic stuff,” he says.

“But when you start talking about doing security, or doing data centres, storage networks, or wireless networks, then you are moving more to the advanced area of networking and in that area the gap gets worse – over 35% in those specific technology areas,” says Alkharrat.||**||

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