Last week I flipped my LinkedIn status to semi-retired, acknowledging a state that has actually existed for some years. Three quarters of the UK’s senior (age 50+) IT workers are unemployed. As the years pass and the gaps in employment get longer it gets harder to find a recruiter who will even return a phone call.
This isn’t a new situation but there is a sign that it can’t go on much longer. In the past the solution to finding (cheap) new technology skills has been to import them. In my lifetime this started with importing West Indian transport workers and more recently Polish plumbers. In IT we have been relying on India and Eastern Europe to provide new graduates.
The growing resistance to immigration, if it continues, will restrict UK companies’ freedom to import workers. Paradoxically Brexit will make the situation worse because we will need to import several hundred thousand IT workers to make it happen just when the brexiteers expect immigration to go down.
In theory we have age-discrimination legislation but it isn’t enforced. For instance it is still quite common to see the requirement for a degree in job specifications. As the probability of having a degree correlates strongly with age this is covered by the regulations on indirect discrimination and has been since 2008. Adding “or equivalent experience” to the specification makes it legal but we really should be taking active measures to expose employers who don’t implement that change.
The text of an email I have just sent to my MP:
let me first add my voice to those asking their MPs to do whatever is necessary to avoid The UK leaving the EU.
Next let me mention an issue that may affect the decision. Article 50 states that the EU may conclude negotiations and force exit two years after invocation. It seems to me that the practical implications of that have not been discussed.
To execute a withdrawal the government will need to review every department’s IT system as will every other organisation with a significant IT system, such as the NHS. The review could go ahead immediately if necessary, and probably should be started in weeks rather than months. A (very) rough guesstimate is that this will require an additional 100,000 skilled IT workers over and above those we already have and take five years. The likely source for those extra workers is India unless China enters that market. Some of this work will probably involve legacy software and that will require some existing UK IT staff to be brought out of retirement.
Negotiation of exit arrangements can to some extent run in parallel with the review. The next stage will only start in earnest when the first heads of agreement are available. This stage is modification of existing software to implement the new business processes that put negotiations into effect, and then testing it. If managed well this phase of the project will probably require another 200,000 immigrants. It will also require the active involvement of substantially every existing civil servant. It will also take five years, if managed competently. During this stage every new piece of legislation (foreign and domestic) should be examined for its likely effect on the progress of the rewrite and if necessary deferred.
I should add that expecting this project to be managed competently may be a triumph of hope over experience. Even if it is managed well you should not expect any change from your hundred billion pound note.
We are finding out more about the consequences of brexit. Here’s another issue that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere.
Untangling the UK’s government systems from its involvement with the EU is non-trivial. Pretty much every government department and company will need to look at the final negotiated agreement and work out how its administrative systems will need to be change. If we assume that the EU is willing to enter into negotiations before Article 50 is invoked then that shouldn’t take more than five years or so. That is a bit faster than a normal EU trade negotiation but both sides already understand the system.
Knowing what the legal requirements are is the starting point for re-engineering IT and business processes. It is important to understand the scope of the work. Most government departments will have to analyse their systems so that they understand which of them will need changes. Most of this work should be easy because building modern IT systems generates the necessary documents. But some of the systems are not modern and so will have to be documented. That shouldn’t take more than a year or two and we can start right away.
Once we understand what we need to change and what changes we need we can get started on the main task. The first step will be to halt any other legislative changes that might interfere. Then we need to hire enough analysts and developers for the job. By the time this kicks off there may be enough of them in Europe but if not we will need to import them from either India or China. This will happen at the same time that industry also needs them so there will be competition for the best people. My rough guess is that we will need around half a million new immigrants, best case.
Worst case will be to hand the development work to the jokers that “built” the Universal Benefit system for DWP. Best case the work required will cost around £100 billion and take five years. Worst case it will be £500 billion and ten years. That is for the government half of the job. Industry’s bill will be about the same size.
I suspect that whoever wrote the two year time-limit into the Article 50 clause was well aware that it effectively makes leaving impossible.
Or rather David. The web is alight with messages about Brexit. I voted remain, and we lost. Rumour has it that lots of the people who voted for exit only wanted to register a protest and didn’t expect it to win. Whatever. We’re here and this is what we are stuck with. Time to quit the recriminations and plan to play the hand we have been dealt.