Demand for IT staff has increased 23% since last year despite a decline in the overall UK jobs market, according to research. Recruitment group Reed's annual job index suggests IT job opportunities increased 23% year-on-year in December 2010 compared to 2009 figures, even though job demand fell in the majority of UK sectors.

The index showed job growth in the IT sector grew at nearly four times the rate of the economy as a whole. Demand from the private sector was responsible for the increase as new public sector jobs continued to fall to less than half the opportunities a year ago, said Reed. But Martin Warnes, managing director of Reed.co.uk, warned the rise in demand for IT staff could fuel a skills shortage.

Elsewhere, research from CompTIA has highlighted mounting concern from UK IT departments about finding the right staff when growing headcount.

A total of 59 per cent of companies surveyed by the organisation in the UK said they were understaffed. Many of the firms classed as fully staffed said they were hoping to hire and expand.

Two thirds of companies questioned said that finding quality new employees was challenging or very challenging and 31 per cent were concerned about retaining existing employees.

Top skills needed were project management (80 per cent), database administration/design (77 per cent), business intelligence (75 per cent), PC/technical support (71 per cent) and cloud/SaaS (70 per cent).

Just a few points behind were network administration (66 per cent), virtualisation (65 per cent) and security (63 per cent). In total, 78 per cent of IT managers questioned also revealed that certification was a high or medium priority when hiring, but many were also keen to point out that experience was also important.

Interestingly, only 28 per cent of IT managers felt their HR department had a solid understanding of the needs of IT, with 44 per cent feeling HR departments had a basic understanding.

A total of 27 per cent said they had 'little or no' understanding. Half of IT managers are ready to put their money where their mouth is, with 49 per cent revealing they pay for all training expenses and 52 per cent paying for all certification expenses.

Others offered some level of support, including at-work training and time off to take exams. Worryingly, 14 per cent admitted they provide no training at all.

Karl Flinders at Computer Weekly ponders on the two camps;"There are the IT workers and employee groups that say there is not a shortage of IT skills in the UK but there are thousands of unemployed IT professionals.

Then you have the businesses using offshore services that say they cannot find the skills in the UK.

There is lots of evidence to support the claim that UK IT professionals are struggling to get work as a result of the increased off-shoring of IT work. For example the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) found that Computer Science graduates are the largest group of unemployed graduates in the UK. Its figures from July revealed that 17% of 2009 computer science graduates were unemployed. This is the highest and the average graduate unemployment is 10%."

So are IT Skills in short supply or not? Either way, without keeping skills up to date and hands on experience, potential job applicants and those looking for career progression are likely to find the going tough until the economy stabilises. Have your say, and join the debate with us at Twitter or Facebook

Source ChannelWeb, ComputerWeekly (Karl Flinders, Jenny Williams)