Are there enough entry-level IT jobs?

It's well-accepted among analysts, vendors and other pundits that the IT industry is suffering a skills shortage, with more work than IT pros to go around.

Recent research has suggested there may not be enough entry-level positions for new workers leaving new grads unemployed and contributing to skills shortages in the long-term, as new workers simply can't get the commercial experience organisations require of their IT staff.

A report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency has shown one in ten computer science graduates are unemployed, while research from the Association of Technology Staffing Companies (Atsco) showed pay rates for entry-level IT workers has been falling.

On the other hand, a report by another recruiter has shown offshoring hasn't hit entry-level jobs, despite concerns that cheaper, less complicated roles were being outsourced overseas.

Are entry-level jobs drying up? Marilyn Davidson of Atsco told IT PRO: "Research we've done and reports we get do reinforce it is quite difficult to get entry-level IT jobs."

Computeach career counsellor Darren O'Connell agreed, suggesting it's hard to get a foot in the door. "What we are finding is a lot of employers are looking right away for commercial experience," O'Connell said. "Any IT job advertised always looks for commercial experience."

This is especially the case in the hot market that is London, he added, as well as with skill sets such as web design, where a portfolio is necessary to prove skills.

But InterQuest communications director David Bevan disagreed, saying entry-level jobs still abound. "There's still a lot of graduate recruitment going on," he told IT PRO. "There's quite a lot of top UK firms experiencing a skills shortage."

He added that with an economic downturn looming, "fewer everything is being hired... but IT is relatively safer than a number of other areas."

If entry-level IT work is indeed drying up, Atsco's Davidson said several factors contribute to the problem, including offshoring moving many entry-level roles overseas. She also noted that many students don't graduate from their training programmes with the skills employers are looking for, and employers aren't willing to pay or take the time to train them up.

"It isn't a new problem," Davidson said. "Technology has suffered for it for years and years." Engineering firms face a similar dilemma; the average age of their workers is in the high fifties.

"Both in IT and engineering, a lot of work is project-based," she explained. "Companies don't want to hire trainees, they bring in workers with the right skills on a contract basis."

New students shouldn't be discouraged, however, as there are still many opportunities in the sector. While work experience, interning and voluntary work could help wedge a foot through the door, another good place to look is the public sector, Computeach's O'Connell advised. The government is spending billions on IT projects, but tight budgets give entry-level workers a bit more of a chance. "Local government actively look and recruit at entry-level," O'Connell said, adding universities, schools and even the NHS can offer a good first position.

"At the NHS, the screening process is an application form and its competency based," he explained so freshly-graduated computer experts need only have the right skills, not years of commercial experience, in order to be considered.

While many students wait for jobs to come to them expecting recruiters and firms to show up on the milk round O'Connell advised wanna-be-IT-pros to directly contact companies they want to work for. "It shows drive and determination," he said.

Atsco's Davidson suggested large companies are more likely to take on trainees than SMBs. "A lot of big organisations have good training programmes," she said, but added: "Big companies often only look at the very best graduatesbut just because someone's good at exams, doesn't mean they'll be good in the work force."

While she called on industry to offer more apprenticeships and hire more entry-level IT workers, Davidson also said that universities must offer the right training and students must continue to take up those programmes in order to overcome the problem.