Skills Shortage Fever: The Last Five Years

This article is from the July edition of Project Management Tipoffs, the project management & recruitment issues newsletter from Arras People. Subscribe today and we’ll send you free monthly editions, including last week’s July release.

Requisite SkillsBack in the good old days of 2005, Tipoffs reported that the UK project management marketplace was hit by a massive skills shortage;

  • The job market is bound for massive expansion as companies and organisations take the dust covers off their delayed investments in new IT systems and regulatory adherence demands change!
  • The general consensus would appear to be that this skills shortage will convert into pay increases and a general scramble as organisations look to secure the services of the best permanent and freelance consultants!

The interesting observations we made at the time included; “The number of available skilled programme and project management professionals is reducing; employers are not yet cognoscente to the fact that there may be a shortage on the horizon and rates are still pretty level and not inflationary.” At the time we were a little sceptical about the perception that a skills shortage would exist in project management but fast forward to 2010 and the marketplace is showing some interesting signs.

Permanent employees and contractors alike will tell you of their concerns on not only the available opportunities within the marketplace being drastically reduced but also the impact on the rates and salaries available. It has not been uncommon to hear of contract project management professionals raising concerns about the reduction of their rates by up to 30% of what they were two years ago. There is, however, a flip side to this story and one worth noting and sharing with the project management community.

It is the project management professionals who are working within a “skills shortage” industry, sector or organisation that have carried on working through these recessionary times and who have seen their rates increase during the last two years. It is also worth noting that although we are still within a period of economic flux, where the marketplace has seen an increased in available project management resources, the general consensus amongst employers is that there is a decrease in “the right” project management talent being available.  That’s right, it appears we do indeed have a skills shortage, or to expand that further, we have a domain knowledge shortage within project management.  The contract and permanent project management workforce who are currently working within those areas deemed to be in demand are cleaning up.

My question to you is this; “what is your area of specialism?” Or are you a generalist project management practitioner who believes that project management is a transferable skill set which will allow you to work in any industry sector?  Rightly or wrongly, the marketplace at the moment is demanding specialism of its project managers; demonstrable experience of domains, sectors, industries, systems, products, business change and so the list goes on.

Think about your own situation and circumstance; if you were to market your own specialism what would it be? What areas of business and industry are looking for my particular specialism? How can I work the current marketplace demands to my advantage? Now is not a great time to think about how to change sectors or markets; now is the time to capitalise on your real achievements to date.


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  1. Hi Lindsay,

    Do you think there is certain element of prospective employers being overly choosy, or are they setting there expectations too high? On the flip side I guess that they are looking for Project Managers who can hit the ground running – and hence the need for domain/product etc knowledge.

    What I think you are alluding to is that there is not a skills shortage per-se, but a shortage of the right skills that employers are looking for? Or is it that Project managers are not responding to job adverts as well as they could be to demonstrate their skills and experience?



    1. Hi Ed, I think employers feel that there are more jobseekers in the market (from listening to all the news etc) and therefore that must mean there are a lot more candidates available for their particular role – a case of, there’s bound to be the perfect match candidate just around the corner and therefore we’ll keep looking until we find them. Unfortunately an increase in available candidates doesn’t mean an increase in the candidates they’re looking for, it just means more people. If anything, the available candidates for their particular role has actually gone down because the right candidates are not actively seeking a new position (because they’re reading the news and thinking “better the devil you know”) So in some respects there is actually a shortage of certain sector skills available in the market place – employers are indeed wanting people who will hit the ground running and therefore must demonstrate that they have worked in the same business sector / environment for the last x years. Some would say that is totally unreasonable and that PMs have transferable skills that allow them to work in most other sectors – but employers are not buying that. The interesting question is why don’t they buy that? Do employers really understand what a Project Manager does? That leads to the whole debate about project management as a profession, not just an occupation.

  2. I’ve been on both sides of the fence – as a PM looking for a contract, and recruiting PMs.

    It is frustrating that some employers believe that identical expereince in the same industry is crucial. The NHS are a good example of this. So they miss out on new, different, arguably better skills from PMs that have experience in different industries.

    Around 75% of my experience is in government; local and central (either directly or for a vendor). And I have found a real resistance to recruiting PMs with private sector experience into public. This seems to be based on an assumption that they will not fit into the culture.

    Having worked for PLCs, it is governance and the appetite for risk that separates private and public sector projects.

    When looking to recruit PM’s, I am interested in three things: have they worked on a similar type of delivery? (this is not industry specific, more project type); do they give me the confidence that they are a ‘safe pair of hands’? (found through references and interview questions) will they be a good fit for the delivery team? (admittedly this is a punt!)

    1. Thanks Sas, great insight on the three areas you look at. Interestingly, just today we’ve been having a conversation here about that term “safe pair of hands”. A candidate has described themselves as a “safe pair of hands” in their CV and whilst it is a good way to describe a PM, we’re not sure about writing that in a CV – it kinda conveys a PM that may be too staid, too dull?

      Would be interested to hear from others about how “safe pair of hands” can be conveyed better in a CV and ultimately in the interview?

  3. Hmmm I don’t think I would write this in a cv. But I would be looking for a candidate to convey this to me.

    The sorts of things I look for:

    Has the candidate been given a promotion or additional responsibility in any given role?

    Do their referees describe them as such?

    In an interview: can I see them in that role or are they ‘punching abover their weight?’.

    Killer question: describe a project that failed or something that went seriously wrong on a project – what was your role? What did you learn from the experience?

    I would want someone who has some ‘project scars’, has learnt from mistakes, is confident and can inspire a team.

  4. Hi folks,
    I think we are facing some new paradigms that Tom Peters,(Reinvention); Tom Friedman, (Flat World); and Tom Osenton, (Death of Denand) have been writing about for the last 10 years or so.

    And that is, “the job” as most of us know it is probably going to end, and most of us will become part of the “contingent” workforce.

    Unless we all go to work for the government (and based on what we’ve seen in Greece, Spain, California, this seems highly unlikely, despite Obama’s best efforts to socialize the USA) means we will ALL be project based, “temporary” employees. (Similar to how the movie industry has worked for well over 50 years now)

    IF these predictions are true, then we need to be building our “brand image” as practitioners- meaning the very competent project and program managers will be able to command very impressive salaries, just as the top actors and actresses do today. And it also means that just like in Hollywood, there will be a lot of very good potential talent that ends up waiting tables and bar tending waiting for the opportunity to “prove” themselves.

    Hate to be pessimistic, but I see clear evidence (here in SE Asia) that this is already happening.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta

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