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Sun 23 Mar 2008 01:43 PM

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Talent spotting

Concerns over skills shortages are being raised in the Middle East channel, with distributors and resellers desperate to get hold of good talent.

Not a week goes by without concerns over skills shortages - current or imminent depending on who you listen to - being raised in the Middle East channel. Distributors and resellers are desperate to get hold of good talent, but at the same time the avenues to do this are becoming more restricted every day, leaving the channel woefully exposed on the resources front.

It's painfully obvious to everyone in the market that the current scenario can't last without it having crippling consequences for the entire channel ecosystem.

A straw poll of integrators in the UAE suggests that the channel is seeing average annual growth of between 20% and 30% a year, with expectations for the coming years just as ambitious. This is where the problem starts. To achieve such formidable growth, companies need to enlarge their capacity by a commensurate rate just to fulfil the demands of the market.

I've spoken to resellers who admit they are already turning away business because they lack the manpower to do the job properly. It is not unfeasible to expect this quandary to exacerbate as the talent screw in the Middle East is tightened.

The resource topic isn't just emotive because of what it means to winning and losing end-customer business. It also has a huge influence over the relationships that resellers have with their vendor partners. Without the acceptable quota of certified staff, their engagement with the vendor diminishes, and they risk missing out on the desired level of rebates, kickbacks and financial incentives that are fundamental to their health.

Many resellers simply don't know where to turn for help. The nature of the Gulf market means that most employ a predominantly expatriate workforce, but with the imbalance of the dollar and ongoing inflationary pressures biting hard, the usual labour pools can no longer be relied upon to provide tomorrow's army of foot soldiers. At the same time, rising salaries in markets that have contributed a high portion of the region's industry professionals, such as India, are compounding the dilemma.

Let's face it, other than paying lip service to the subject, vendors have largely been inconspicuous when it comes to suggesting possible solutions. It is not exactly something they are known for giving intense consideration to, and the truth is that many are pre-occupied with their own recruitment concerns - which, ironically, often involves plucking new employees from the channel - rather than worrying about their partners.

It is clear that the time has come for the vendor community to step forward and do more to help. The difficulty that their partners face in recruiting new staff is their business whether they like it or not. Recruitment is an expensive and timely exercise for any company, especially a reseller faced with slender margins and the pressure of meeting quarterly targets. At the end of the day, no vendor wants an under-strength partner because it merely enhances the prospect that work will be carried out unsatisfactorily, if at all.

Bearing all this in mind, it is refreshing to see Cisco attempting to address the issue with the recent launch of a portal that allows partners in the Middle East and Africa to access the profiles and resumes of Cisco Network Academy graduates. That apparatus follows the earlier creation of a ‘Referred to Partners' initiative giving resellers an opportunity to share their vacancies with Cisco so that the details of any competent applicants not taken on by the vendor are forwarded downstream.

Cisco's research suggests that the demand for networking skills in the UAE alone will exceed supply by an average of 27% next year, creating a talent vacuum of 19,000 workers. That's a phenomenal figure by any standard, let alone one sector of the market. It also emphasises why vendors such as Cisco need to act fast.

Since its launch, Cisco claims 700 different certified partners have accessed the portal, a further sign of the channel's urgency when it comes to locating qualified staff.

The portal - which I doubt is too expensive or troublesome to maintain - is a relatively straightforward and simple concept that I can't imagine consumed too much brainpower to dream up. While it isn't going to single-handedly plug the channel skills gap, it deserves to be commended for assisting resellers with their recruitment endeavours. As a starting point, other vendors would do well to follow suit.

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