The IT industry is facing a serious shortage of talent - and the situation will only get worse. This trend is emerging even as the IT processes that keep businesses humming and our daily lives smooth are becoming standardised and available in an almost plug and play manner.

A recent AT Kearney study on how the IT landscape will look in 2020, notes that there is a startling deficit of experienced specialists in various crucial infocomm disciplines and it will become more acute.

In the region and Singapore, the skill gap is not limited only to hardcore technical IT skills such as cloud computing and IT services, also known as ITaaS (IT-as-a-service), but also in business functions such as digital marketing, mobile and e-commerce, data analytics and social media, says AT Kearney's Chua Soon Gee. Mr Chua is partner as well as head of South-east Asia for AT Kearney.

Separately, according to the annual survey of Singapore infocomm manpower for 2011 done by the IDA (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore), the total number of infocomm professionals in Singapore as at June 2011 was 142,900 with 11,900 job vacancies, taking the total infocomm manpower requirement to 154,800. Out of the total number employed, 52 per cent worked for infocomm organisations - in normal parlance that means the companies which provide IT services and products - while the rest worked for end-user organisations, that is companies which consumed IT products and services.

Interestingly, out of 11,900 vacancies, 61 per cent were in the infocomm organisations. The top three IT positions where vacancies were available were: software and applications developer, network/infrastructure architect and engineer, and infocomm marketing and sales representatives. The survey also showed that seven out of 10 infocomm vacancies in Singapore were for experienced manpower.

The IDA survey specifically points out that 81 per cent of the vacancies in the software and applications developer category were for experienced manpower. It was 83 per cent for network/infrastructure and architect and 79 per cent for infocomm marketing and sales representatives. Experienced manpower, especially in the IT sector is scare.

Speaking to BT, Right Management's Ronnie Tan pointed out that the talent crisis in Singapore is not just confined to the IT sector alone. The ManpowerGroup's 2013 Talent Shortage Survey shows that almost half of employers (47 per cent) in Singapore are experiencing difficulty finding staff with the right skills. This is above the global average of talent shortages at 35 per cent, the highest since before the global economic crisis. Right Management is a part of the ManpowerGroup, a global employment services giant.

"In a bid to address talent acquisition challenges, 54 per cent of Singaporean employers say that a relook at their work models is necessary while 41 per cent point to a focus on improving their talent pipeline . . . employers in Singapore are increasingly taking measures to mitigate the business effects in a talent scarce environment," Mr Tan, who is Right Management's group EVP, Asia-Pacific & Global Talent Management, says.

Talking about the infocomm sector, Mr Tan observes: "As businesses grapple with this talent crunch in the IT sector, the mobility of talent will continue to be a watchword across businesses in every market. More so, as they look for ways to move this finite pool of talent within and across regions through redesign, upskilling and new assignments."

In Singapore, the talent shortage is in terms of people who can combine both technology skill-sets and business understanding; for example, a CIO (chief information officer) with responsibilities for developing and aligning the regional IT platform to support the Asian growth strategy.

Mr Chua notes that a lot of Singapore's talent shortage, especially in infocomm, is being filled by foreigners. "The tightening of the foreign labour inflow has had some impact on the ability of firms to address the talent shortage, particularly among the smaller IT firms who are in need of software developers. Some of these companies have had to outsource development and work to other countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam and India."

But he adds that there have been partnerships between local institutions such as the universities and polytechnics with large IT corporations such as SAS, SAP and IBM to develop a local talent pool, facilitated by the IDA.

"This type of cooperation helps address the talent shortage over time, and also allows the educational institutions to get access to the latest in-market thinking to develop relevant courses," says Mr Chua.

There is also a need to demonstrate to the young in Singapore that IT and the digital space is an area where they can develop a rewarding career, rather than an industry that is always at risk of being commoditised and outsourced to somewhere else, he added.

IT understanding is not just for the lower-level technical functions. Most senior management and Board members need to understand very clearly how IT and digitalisation can totally disrupt and transform their industries.

"This can start by the CIO having a seat on the Board and be the evangelist for technology transformation - in fact our study shows that almost half of global corporations expect that to happen by 2020," adds Mr Chua.