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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Is there really a shortage in available, correctly qualified personnel for ICT companies? Or is the industry suffering from the consequences of outsourcing, as well as maintaining unrealistic demands with respect to their new employees?!

For me as a (formerly) freelancing worker in the ICT industry, there was a quite interesting news message in Het Financieele Dagblad this week.

From research carried out by the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics it was disclosed that there allegedly is a shortage of roughly 17% in qualified ICT personnel among large employers and principals with an interest in ICT. 

These are companies and institutions like ICT employers, central and local governments and governmental organizations, large banks and insurance companies and other large commercial parties, with an vital ICT component in their line of business.

The following snippets were printed in Het Financieele Dagblad:


Entrepreneurs are more and more hampered by the mounting shortage in qualified personnel. In the ICT industry this shortage amounts to 17%, according to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics.

Roughly 7% of the entrepreneurs states that the shortage in qualified personnel offers difficulties in the daily conduct of business. This number was not that high since 2009. In the commercial business industry 11% of the employers sees this shortage as an obstacle for further growth, while in the Transport and Storage industry 7% of the companies experience such a shortage.

When this research is true and objective indeed, it would mean that it is not possible to fill in roughly one in five ICT jobs, due to a lack of qualified personnel. That is an alarming number indeed, but is it true?! 

If have my doubts personally, based upon my own experiences of these last months and (even) years, since the crisis started in 2008.

As many of my readers know, my official profession is that of a senior software testing professional with 18 years of experience in this industry. Especially the last two years I have been in the situation too often, that I was looking for a new assignment as software tester at the government, the financial industry or other commercial parties.

When I compare the current situation with the situation in 1999 when there REALLY was a shortage in the ICT industry, under influence of the dot-com bubble, these situations are almost diametrically opposite.

In 1999 I received three salary increases in one year myself. Everybody and their sister, who were able to write two flawless lines of computer code in a row, were hired for a future in the ICT industry. Lab assistents, biologists, mathematicians, physicians, teachers and many other professions were lured into a job as programmer, software tester or project manager, with skyhigh salaries, fancy leasecars and other perks, as demand required that. That was a shortage!

Looking at things now, it is a whole different ball-game.

Countless ICT jobs have been outsourced to Eastern Europe, India and other low-wage countries, where whole ‘software factories’ have emerged that mass-produce billions of lines of code for especially large customers of ICT services in Europe and the United States. At the same time the Dutch market has been ‘flooded’ with numerous knowledge workers from these same countries, who chose for a more prosperous future in The Netherlands.

Salaries and fees in the ICT industry, especially for the more common programming, analysis and testing jobs and commonly used tools, are still under fierce downward pressure in a market in which ‘demand’ still rules, like it has already done during the last decade.

I have written dozens of motivations for testing jobs during these last two years and I’ve noticed that large employers and principals are still extremely picky with regard to their (temporary) personnel.

Companies demand very experienced workers with a long list of tool-driven and general (personal) skills and a genuine 'passion for their job', but refuse to pay ‘top dollar’ for them, unless they possess skills that are really extremely rare in the business.

Instead of settling for a (temporary) worker that can meet roughly 80% - 90% of the demands in the advert, knowing that he/she will be able to fill in the knowledge void very quickly in most cases, many large employers and principals still only want to settle for the ‘perfect 10’, when it comes to their temporary personnel and fixed employees.

Their adverts show at least 10 to 15 bullets of specifically demanded experience (“3 to 5 years experience in line of business abc and with programming tool xyz”), personal skills and expert knowledge of very specific tools, often put down as 'knock out criteria'.

If you as an ICT professional cannot meet all these demands or at least the vast majority of those (i.e. the ‘knock out’ criteria), there is a considerable chance that you will not be invited for a job conversation at all and your resumee will untimely end up in the dustbin. And that in spite of the fact that you are probably more than capable to execute the job at hand. 

No experience within the government? Then were sorry! No experience with the Protractor testing tool?! No, than we cannot use your knowledge and experience!” And indeed: these ‘perfect 10’ guys and girls are still very hard to find, just like they will be in any situation.

A large bank in The Netherlands requires their ICT professionals to bring their own working devices, like a notebook/laptop, storage devices, iPad and telephone (i.e. BYOD aka Bring Your Own Device) and work the first two weeks for free (i.e. without payment) as well. The latter is sold to their 'would be' consultants as 'an introduction period in which personnel is not productive yet’. Refuse this and your application probably does not stand a chance in the process!

Other large companies simply refuse to accept your resumee for a new job or assignment, when you have failed earlier during a  job application procedure for a different job. 

Does that sound like an alarming 17% shortage in ICT workers?! To me, it doesn’t.

And look at things from a different point of view. All the large banks and probably many insurance companies too have dismissed hundreds of their ICT workers, who were not considered ‘fit for the agile way of working’ anymore. Those were people who have worked to the full satisfaction of their employers for years in a row, but suddenly were not good enough anymore.

And for instance ‘Big Blue’ IBM has fired hundreds of workers during a recent reorganization, a.o. for reasons of losing a large contract at KPN, the Dutch telecom company. The following snippets come from Computable.


After counseling with the central works council, IBM has decided to scratch 334 jobs within the company. This reorganization had been announced already in March 2016 and now the definitive number of workers has been disclosed.

IBM carries out a large European job cutting operation, in which much work is transfered to India. There is a considerable chance that – after the 334 jobs that have been erased in the meantime – more people will lose their job. IBM would like to have carried out this operation before the end of this year.

To these ears all this does not sound like a real shortage in the number of ICT workers, like signaled by the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics, in spite of the increasing number of assignments. 

These IBM workers alone and also the bank’s and insurance companies’ ICT employees are in most cases perfectly capable people of which still many are currently looking for a new job or assignment. Companies and the government just have to give them a chance!

It just sounds like the 17% of ICT jobs that could not be filled in, according to the CBS, are either extremely specialized jobs – which will always be hard to fill in, as such people are always scarce and in demand – or jobs that have been administered by extremely picky companies, looking for their ‘perfect 10’ consultants and employees in vain.

To be honest, I don’t expect the situation of 1999 to return soon to The Netherlands. This in the light of the massive influx of foreign knowledge workers of the last fifteen years or the equally massive outsourcing of Dutch ICT jobs and work backlogs to India and Eastern Europe. 

The Dot Com bubble was really a crazy, ‘once in a lifetime’ situation, but the current situation is definitely not!

I just expect that the companies currently looking for ICT workers will become somewhat less picky in the coming months and years and become more willing to give ICT workers, who score a 7 or 8 out of 10, a chance, instead of waiting for "mr. or mrs. Perfect". 

Let us be honest: most of those ‘7 or 8’ workers are more than qualified and willing to do a wonderful job at their new employer or principal and therefore I don’t see the current ‘shortage’ as a problem. 

It is just a signal that companies and the government have to step over their initial reservations and settle for workers that seem a ‘teeny weeny’ bit less qualified, but are not in reality. And that is actually a great development, to be honest...

Monday, 19 September 2016

“Majesty, point us a dot at the horizon. Somewhere where we – the Dutch people – would want to go for ourselves and our children”. Open letter to the Dutch King as the government’s official straw man on Prince’s Day

Your Majesty,

Since last Prince’s Day [the Dutch National Budget Day and the moment of the official governmental outlook for the next year on the third Tuesday of September - EL] the situation in The Netherlands has substantially improved, as far as the economy is concerned.

Housing prices are up again – especially in the big cities –and unemployment is dropping; in particular among older, 50+ workers. The number of trucks on the Dutch roads is steadily mounting, as a palpable sign of soaring economic activity. In other words, the economy seems to be in a positive flow, in spite of the global unrest, the refugee crisis and the tensions in Eastern Europe. On top of that the Dutch national budget looks fine as well.

There is a lot to be satisfied about for the current PvdA (socialist) and VVD (liberal-conservative) government, that is going to reach maturity unharmed for the first time in many, many years.  And – as 2017 is an election year for the Second Chamber of Parliament – the government is boasting about its achievements during the nearly four years of Cabinet Mark Rutte II.

The PvdA is boasting about the social, labour-friendly parts in their share of the government policy, while the VVD is bragging about their ministers and state secretaries being tough on crime, commuter-friendly (“We delivered more tarmac during this government period than during any other time before”) and being the entrepreneur’s best friends.

Almost everybody in the government – irrespective of their party – is very pleased with himself and wants to share the secret of his success with the Dutch grassroots, as an invitation to give him/her another chance.

And Mark Rutte? He thinks that he is capable of leading the country for another five years, like no-one else is, and he is very much willing to do so too. Well, your majesty, you know him.

But, your highness, look outside the safe zone of your own protected micro-cosmos. Forget those ecstatic sportsmen and -women that you encountered on various occasions in Rio de Janeiro: those people – especially the medal winners – are living in their own micro-cosmos, where they can ignore – even deny – reality and normal live in The Netherlands.

Read the newspapers and don’t skip the comments of common Dutch citizens beneath the articles. Spend a day or two on Twitter or Facebook and other social media to get acquainted with the emotions of ‘Joop & Liesbeth’ (proverbial socialist couple), ‘Jan-Jaap and Brechtje’ (proverbial liberal-conservatives) or their blue-collar rightwing counterparts ‘Henk & Ingrid’. Not always the happiest of emotions; thats true! And often contrary in their conclusions with respect to the Dutch social-economic situation. But very real ones!

Pierce through the tinsel of LinkedIn showing only ‘passionate and utterly motivated people, waiting for a new challenge where they can proactively show what they are made of’; there are quite a lot of them, aren’t there?! Do you think all those people are on LinkedIn for fun?! Really?!

And do you think that all those people on LinkedIn are showing cheesy statements of Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or the Dalai Lama, because they deeply adore those guys? Really?! And not, because these folks hope that some of these idols’ glory, success and glamour will touch themselves on their quest for a new job and a better career?!

Read about the numerous flex-workers, the (not so) freelancers and the hundreds of thousands of youngsters with temporary contracts, who will not receive a fixed contract in many, many years probably. Or the people with a chronical illness and their loved ones, who are all struggling to cope with that circumstance: humanely, but also financially and with respect to their difficult work-leisure balance.

Please walk the extra mile to really know the current feelings of your citizens, instead of only being the ventriloquist’s dummy of your government. Just a perfect spokesman, reading a bad speech that is utterly boring in its insignificance and its stately dryness and cheesiness. Prick through the bragging of this cabinets self-complacency and try to see what the people are missing at this moment: the proverbial dot on the horizon.

Your Majesty, you have three children and so have I. Actually they are almost the same age. Your oldest daughter will become the Queen of The Netherlands, while my youngest son will hopefully become the King of Dutch Chess.

I want my children to grow up in a cleaner, more healthy world. Not in a world in which their lungs will be polluted at a young age with the particulates of the heavy industry and the millions of fossile fuel-driven cars, clouding our highways. And I want them to grow up in a world in which they can get a decent job with a decent salary and a decent retirement fee after they have stopped working; at a reasonable age.

I want them to grow up in a safe world, in which the Second Cold War and Islamic jihads are hopefully a thing of the past again. A world in which mutual understanding has triumphated upon the countries with the biggest guns, the most deadly bombs or the most dangerous religious masses.

A world in which drinking and cleaning water is freely obtainable for all the world’s citizens and daily food stuffs are not the asset of a few powerful companies: Bayer-Monsanto, Nestle, Danone, Syngenta or Cargill. And not in a world in which Africa is still starving from poverty and drought, while being looted by China, Japan, Russia, South Korea or the European countries and the United States; just as South-America and the North Pole.

For my children I want that they have the chance to see their children and grandchildren grow up, just like I see them do that now. I know by heart, that you think about that the same way, with respect to your children.

I know that you are bound by the protocol to express that what is presented to you and that the Prime Minister has written your King’s speech. A Prime Minister who flatters himself with the opinion that he ‘is not the guy for having a grand vision on the world. That he is simply keeping the shop open for “The Netherlands ltd” and that he is doing a fine job with that’. 

Talented in what he does, but utterly uninspiring as a human being.

PM Mark Rutte does not have children of himself and that is OK, of course. I hope for him that he will find and keep happiness in his life: with or without a partner for life. I think I know his situation as I have been in a similar situation too, for quite a long time. Actually not much unlike yourself, your highness.

Nevertheless, you have children, as I mentioned earlier. That gives you an extra responsibility: both as a loving father and instigator of your own ‘blue’ bloodline. And that, even though your daughters live in the same micro-cosmos as you do. 

A micro-cosmos in which encounters with the press and with common, 'normal' people are reduced to half a dozen, carefully chosen and guarded moments per year. And a micro-cosmos in which having a shedload of money, status and a fixed job has never been an issue, even though I dont envy you or your job.

Yet, I hope that you know and understand that a world war with Russia, China or perhaps even the United States would destroy your little Camelot after all, even though you and your loved ones would be among the first people to find shelter. 

And that religious tensions and economic despair in a society can utterly divide people at the bottom of the social ladder and make them afraid, desperate and agressive. And also that the air pollution from fossile fuels won’t stop just outside your little paradises in Wassenaar, Den Haag, Greece or Switzerland, irrespective of how much money you paid and security you arranged for it.

And of course I hope you understand and feel inside your heart that the dissatisfied and disappointed, sometimes even angry and alienated people in The Netherlands want a straw to clutch at: a glimmer of hope from a person that they love and trust beyond anything else. A sign that gives them confidence and courage to move on living their lives and to get more optimistical about the future again, as it is their future; for them to discover!

So please, your highness...!

Go to your ‘employer’ Mark Rutte and his henchmen and tell them to take a hike with Rutte's boring secrets of his Cabinet’s success, their boasting about the positive progression of the Dutch economy and their stately prose about the current state of the Dutch nation, that nobody understands and for which nobody really cares. 

Tell them that you go on strike “like an Air France pilot” if he demands from you to present that boring nonsense again.

Tell them that you heard from your ‘subjects’ (i.e. the Dutch citizens) that they want an inspired and inspiring speech: a speech that will change their life for the better and make the world – at least our country – a better place again, in which solidarity and mutual trust triumphate egoism and carelessness about our fellow citizens.

Tell Mark that you are ready and willing to give that darn speech, like you were never before. Tell Mark that your children – the princesses – want to become 90+ too, just like your grandmother and -father did. And that fossile fueles are soooo 1990.

Tell him that a modern Prime Minister is not a simple technocratic and bureaucratic store manager, like Rutte seems to believe. Tell him that he is an utterly important politician on whose shoulders lies the responsibility of inspiring, motivating and comforting the people in his country: not only to smoothtalk to and pamper his own grassroots.

Go for it, your highness! Show him that you are worth every euro that he pays for you per annum, as the moral leader of our country! You – and no-one else – can do this! I rely on you!!!

Yours sincerely,

Ernst


PS. Tell Maxima to not go berzerk on the hat. She looks fine without it!

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The emphasis of government policies, officials and pundits on the promotion of electronic, non-cash money has a clear drawback: people can lose grip on their spending pattern and current cash position. So abolishing all cash-money is not the right way to fight corruption, large-scale crime and terrorism

Perhaps everybody knows the feeling. You are in a shop with your purchases, walking to the cashdesk where the point-of-sale terminal is. And then you wonder:"Will I have enough money on my current account to pay my purchases or not?!" 

The feelings of embarrassment when the terminal responds: “You have reached your spending limit for this period. Please try to pay differently”, and you have to tell the cashier that you can’t pay for your purchases, are enough to thoroughly ruin your day... Or even longer when you have to wait a few days before your paycheck / salary transfer comes in.

Another precarious situation is when you spent money that you had reserved for other things – the rent, the electricity bill, the holiday or the mortgage repayment – because you were unaware of how much money you already spent from your bank account that month and you didn’t have online, real time insights in your current account at the time that you needed it most.

A third risk of having a non-cash money system is that one off-invoices and bills are being sent and collected exclusively through digital services (internet banking and email), so without a version on paper. That is very convenient for companies and the (local) government bureaus as it strongly reduces their mail and banking expenses, but not for people who always relied on the mailman for bringing their bills and invoices: elderly folks and computer haters / digital illiterates.

All these situations are the inevitable result of the fact that you nowadays pay electronically mostlyvia internet banking and point of sale terminals – at least in The Netherlands – and not in hard cash or through paper transaction forms anymore. Cash, that you collected at your bank, where you also dropped your money transaction forms, or ATM once a week.

In those earlier times it was easy: you collected enough cash for a few days or a week and when it finally ran out, it was simply gone: you knew exactly how much you spent that week. You did your all your regular payments (i.e. mortgage, rent, electricity, doctor's bills and all else) via transaction forms or cash payments too. Except for an early credit card, it was impossible to spend more money than you carried, except for regular shops where they knew your name and your face and they trusted you to pay your dues in time.

These days many people totally lose track of their spendings, as they don’t check out their bank account every day and don’t carry cash anymore, but use their bankcard for everything. And for some, mostly older people, internet banking is a hurdle that they hardly can take. Only at the moment that they discover that there was too much month in their salary or benefit payment, the alarm bells ring: often in a supermarket or a shop, or when their invoice payments start to bounce.

The latter was the subject of an article in De Telegraaf: the largest daily paper in The Netherlands:

Increasing numbers of Dutch people have a hard time to maintain grip on their spendings, due to the mounting digitization of payment services.

As a consequence these consuments lose track and give up on it. Consequence: they fail in applying for benefit / allowance money for which they are entitled and also run a risk of getting into financial trouble.

From the annual report of Humanitas, a large volunteers organization in The Netherlands, it became clear that last year 13.832 people came in for help with their home administration, a 13% increase year on year. Budget information bureau Nibud also speaks of a growing problem, hitting youngsters as well as elderly people.

According to Humanitas this is a consequence of the growing complexity of financial services in The Netherlands. “Many elders have minimal computer skills. Due to the digitization of financial services and the termination of paper invoices and accompanying information by many institutions and authorities, they lost track of what money comes in and gets out”, according to a spokespreson of the organization.

But also many youngsters are clueless about their finances and the digitization of payment services, according to Nibud: ”Many of them don’t know how to apply for allowances and benefits at the governmental digital portals. Or they have problems with ticking the right boxes, when it comes to the electronic application for for instance their study benefit”, according to a spokesperson for the organization.

The consequences are quite clear, according to Roeland van Geuns, lecturer Poverty and Participation at the vocational college ‘Hogeschool van Amsterdam’. “In many cases such people don’t receive and use public benefits for which they are fully entitled, due to lacking digital skills. They don’t apply for a healthcare benefit, as they didn’t even know they were entitled to. And when they do know, they are still clueless upon how to apply for it anyway.”

This particular article was focusing on the problems of people who don’t know how to wrangle their computer and use internet banking. But as I tried to explain in the first part of the article, this problem of disconnection between people and their financial situation is broader.

This is particularly worrisome and important, as more and more pundits and government officials advocate a strong reduction in the global amount of paper cash (Euros and Dollars), in order to hamper and counterattack the large circuits of black, criminal money that are crossing the world nowadays. Money that is used for the funding of crime and terrorist attacks or for the bribery of government officials around the globe.

One of those pundits, Kenneth Rogoff, advocated a moratorium on the usage of large banknotes: €100, €200 and €500 or their dollar and yen pendants, in an op-ed in Het Financieele Dagblad:

The $100 bill is accounting for 80% of the staggering cash amount of $4,200 per capita in the United States. In Japan, the ¥10,000 (roughly $100) is responsible for roughly 90% of the Japanese cash amount. The cash possession per capita is almost $7000 overthere. All this money is enabling growth of the underground economy; not the official one.

I don’t advocate a cashless society, as this will neither be feasible nor desirable for the time being. Nevertheless, a cashless society would be fairer and more secure. With the increasing usage of bank cards, electronic money transfers and mobile payments, the usage of cash in the legal economy has decreased, especially for middle and large-scale payment transactions. Research learned that only a small percentage of the large banknotes is held and used for payments by common people and SME companies.

Cash makes crimes, corruption and terrorism easier, as it is anonymous, and large bills are especially problematic as they are so easy to carry and hide. A million dollar in $100 bills fits in a small attache briefcase and a million in $500 dollar bills even fits in a lady’s purse.

Fair enough: there are other ways to bribe an official or to evade taxes or to carry out other forms of financial crime. But most of them have very high transaction costs (for instance uncut, unpolished diamonds) or carry a more than average risk for disclosure (bank transfers and credit card payments).

Admitted, Rogoff builds a strong case for the cashless society, but as he pointed out himself, it is not feasible and desirable for everybody yet, especially the elderly.

And there is one big drawback to electronic money alone, that cannot be mitigated easily. What happens with your non-cash money when the bank, where it resides, turns out to be not safe. That happened to my wife, who had a bank account at the Russian Sberbank in the Nineties of last century:

However, this is not the only thing that is haunting this former Soviet statebank. In 1997, when the Russian ruble collapsed, countless Russians (among whom my wife) lost the lion share of their life savings, stashed at the Sberbank: sometimes for thousands of dollars per person in savings.

All these people received the crisp message from their local Sberbank: “We’re sorry, your money is gone! It has vanished! Next customer, please!”

It will probably still take a few decades, before Sberbank loses this image of a bank which lost billions in embezzled money, as a consequencey of massive fraud and corruption. As it is like John Goldsmith stated in his wonderful book “Bullion”: “money does not vaporize, it just gets another owner”.

This example shows in a sourish way, that eventually the only party that knows that you own a certain amount of electronic money, is the bank that keeps it for you. When this bank (especially in less safe countries with a much weaker central bank and/or central administration) is gone, so is your money. This is an undeniable risk of electronic money that is not true for cash money, in particular when it is stashed in a safe or deposit box that can be reached at all times.

So please be careful before you declare cash money a thing of the past, by totally moving all money transactions on behalf of the goverment and (SME) companies to cyberspace. For many people cash money is still a tangible tool for taking control of their expenses and keeping their financial health in order. It is also a tangible proof that they really own their money: money that cannot be simply taken away by a plummeting bank or a cash-strapped government in a thorougly corrupted country. 

Corruption – the killer of honesty, the economy and national stability in countries all over the world – must be dealt with fiercely, but that is a (supra-)national government job. Not a thing that one can simply blame on the sheer existence of cash money. That would be too easy for the people in charge.

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