Are IT skills lacking or are just underutilised in the Caribbean?

A results of recently released global survey indicate that skilled IT labour is lacking .In this post, we explore whether IT skills lacking in the Caribbean, or are just underutilised.

Last week in Barbados, the results of the
Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey 2016 were released. Harvey Nash is a global talent management and recruitment firm, whilst KPMG is one of the ‘Big Four’ auditing firms that has a presence in some Caribbean countries. The CIO (Chief Information Officer) survey is considered the largest global IT leadership survey. In the 2016, almost 3,400 CIOs and technology leaders across 82 countries participated in the exercise.

Though a deep-dive into the survey results may be undertaken at a later date, one of the most compelling outputs of the exercise, which was discussed at the Barbados event last week, was shortage skilled IT labour:

A new global information technology (IT) leadership survey has found that a shortage of skilled IT workers and threats to cyber security are major challenges in the way of companies keeping pace with innovation and disruptive technology…

Of even greater concern to the businesses was the absence of the relevant IT skills among employees, with 65 per cent of respondents reporting that a lack of talent prevented their organizations from “keeping up with the pace of change”….

(Source:  Barbados Today)

While some Caribbean CIOs might have participated in the survey, the results may not necessarily truly reflect what obtains in the region. Though businesses might complain that the IT talent in the region is inadequate, or the skills of the talent being produced is limited, the corresponding argument can be made that Caribbean businesses are not truly harnessing what is available. In the paragraphs that follow, we highlight some observations and considerations, which could assist us in deciding whether IT skills are indeed lacking, or are they just underutilised in the Caribbean.

Insufficient demand for IT skills?

Whilst this question might seem somewhat controversial, in many Caribbean countries, university graduates of Computer Science, Software Development, IT, and similar programmes, struggle to find gainful employment in their areas of study. Instead, and if they are lucky, they end up in a Management Information Systems Department, where their role is tend to revolve around systems and network maintenance, and not necessary potentially innovative or disruptive activities.

Caribbean businesses may not know what their IT needs are

In the Caribbean, where most of the businesses are Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), having an IT or CIO-type professional on staff is unlikely.  Though they may be more commonplace among medium enterprises, their focus almost exclusively around managing existing system and maintenance. Little or no attention is given to how technology could be better harnessed by the organisation to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and/or the production and delivery of goods and services, to name a few.

The skills needed to to manage an organisation’s information system is considerably different from that of a CIO, who would influence corporate strategy, along with tactics and processes implemented across the entire organisation. However, the absence of having access to a CIO-type expertise, most Caribbean MSMEs would be at a severe disadvantage.

Caribbean businesses cannot afford a full time IT professional

Following from the previous point, many firms, especially MSMEs, tend not to be able to afford a IT professional full time. Invariably, they opt to outsource their needs, which usually is around installation, maintenance and repair of their information system to third party contractors – just to keep their existing systems up and running.

Third-party CIO-type services not readily available

Finally, an observation: although through third party contractors many businesses procure, install and maintain their systems and networks, very few of those contractors offer corporate advisory services. They may advise on what computing devices to purchase, or what digital configurations might satisfies a firm’s needs, etc., but they do not advise or provide insights on matters that can help shape an organisation’s strategy – similar to what a CIO might do.

Having said this, organisations would need to be amenable to having external individuals involved in what they may consider confidential or commercially sensitive discussions. However, access to that type of expertise and insight could be invaluable to help organisation move to the next level – whatever that might be.

Final thoughts…

In summary, there is a still a sense that outside of systems and network management, Caribbean businesses still do not fully appreciate the value of having of the IT professional, and utilising their skills and expertise to advance their organisations. However, there may also be some opportunities, especially for third party contractors and consultants to offer IT advisory and management services, which could be extremely beneficial to MSMEs in particular, which they might be unable to afford on a full-time basis.


Image credit:  Bob Mical (flickr)



  • The real problem is moot Caribbean businesses don’t want to pay for the skills they need. As to corporate advisory services, it is a major challenge to get paid. The industry practice is to provide it gratis to favour solution selling and maintenance,

    • Hmm, that is indeed a problem for which they might not be an easy solution. At the root, businesses might be trivializing IT/ICT and so while they might be prepared to invest – to some degree – in equipment and maintenance, they may not appreciate the larger ecosystem in which IT/ICT affects their business

  • The other factor could be that in a lot of business organisations especially those traditional in non-IT as core business ( eg agricultural processing ), IT along with its skill set requirements are rarely considered as significant to their overall strategy.

    An immediate pointer to this is usually where the person in charge of IT is placed in the organisational hierarchy. Routinely, in such organisations the IT guy would be reporting to the Finance person or the Operations person.

    When you see this symptom in any given organisation just know that here IT is not considered as a business strategy builder and enabler. Consequently, the skill sets will be consigned to the same fate.

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