In the wake of the recent economic strife, any possible sign of recovery in the IT sector is most welcome. Gartner’s recent 2010 IT Market Compensation Study showed that IT headcount had increased by 6.3% over the last year: Some might say a slow growth in IT employment, if it can be sustained, is better than no growth at all.

However, when you dig a bit deeper into the trends highlighted by Gartner, and couple this with the news that the majority of new jobs have been for temporary contractors, you’ll soon uncover flaws in many organisations’ current approach towards filling their skills gaps.

The ever changing skills cycle

Gartner revealed that those employees with the most in-demand skills were those who were most likely to move jobs. As a result, those most likely to go are those that can least afford to be lost. Evidently, IT departments are still at the mercy of the ever-changing cycle of demand for IT skills.

The increased reliance on contractors is one attempt to answer this: they can provide the skills IT departments desperately need when skilled permanent employees are in high demand, and thin on the ground.

Yet hiring contractors is a short-term, expensive solution, especially as the necessary skills are often concentrated in the contractor rather than being more widely shared around the IT department.

At the same time, IT departments can’t be expected to maintain enough permanent staff to cover every single possible skill needed. Instead, organisations should take the opportunity to re-visit their resourcing policies rather than fall back into the old pattern of having to chase “boom and bust” cycles of skill needs and employment.

In the current market, many IT departments will still be working with close to the bare minimum of internal, permanent staff they need to operate. Yet if they want to grow the business again it is clear more resources are required. So how can IT departments answer this conundrum?

A more flexible approach?

Organisations should start looking at alternative resourcing options which make more financial, and operational, sense. For example, organisations could look to only spend 50% - 80% of their staffing budgets on permanent staff with a managed services solution providing the rest of the people and skills they need on an ad-hoc basis.

Taking this approach ensures access to the IT skills needed to meet business requirements without exhausting funds on surplus permanent staff or expensive contractors. In addition, they can reduce the overhead of managing and administering contractors, while still having continuity of personnel from the managed service.

IT departments cannot eliminate constantly changing skills requirements, neither can they magically create a consistent job market. What they can do is remove, as much as possible, the impact that these forces have on their own work and funds, allowing them to concentrate on meeting business needs.