The healthy future of the web industry maybe short-lived

Just three weeks ago I was stood on a stage in Vancouver, Canada. One of the first lines I said to the audience was, “Our industry is in one of the most exciting times of its life.” I meant every single word.

It was just 24 hours after I’d spoken that I was sat at a table chatting to a bunch of friends discussing the current state of employment within the web industry. The conversation was centred around discussing jobs which need filled within the web industry, we also discussed other ‘friends’ who were being taken off the market.

I still believe that our industry is in one of the most exciting times of its life. Never has so much been accomplished or created so quickly. If you thought the dotcom boom was incredible, what we’re seeing at the moment isn’t about the stupidity of people with money to invest, I’d like to think of it being more about the world waking up and realising that the web (Read: Web and Mobile sprinkled with the word ‘digital’) is more important than it has ever been before. Granted there are still some crazy individuals thinking sharing photos is worth $41million but you know, we’ll always get those.

I saw from a distance the dotcom boom come and go, I remember trying to make some money from online advertising whilst co-running nvmax.com with a friend and it was hard work, but it was also exciting. We were publishing content on a half daily basis and in comparison to todays world, people just didn’t consume content as they do now.

When the ‘recession’ hit, I immediately had a gut feeling that the digital world would feel the pain, that the world hadn’t changed and we’d be fighting for every scrap of left over meat in marketing budgets to do something special. I thought that VC’s and investors would tighten their belts and would be more overly cautious to potential investments. I’m happy to say I’ve seen the complete opposite, the web industry in the North East of England where I live has strengthened with only two companies that I know of which struggled. One was the result of outside intervention (they were in the middle of an international take-over) and the other seemed to just struggle in general. It’s fair to say that the companies that fought through and the companies who have started up since the recession have made me very proud.

This leads to my grave concern, that the healthy future of the web industry maybe shortlived. When a national industry goes through rapid boom it clambers for every resource it can. When an international and not specific to location industry goes through rapid boom it clambers for every resource from around the world. Us web folk don’t need to be in the same locality as our employers anymore and companies like 37Signals, WooThemes and envato have clearly entertained this idea and made great successes from it.

In the past, the UK Government has put initiatives in place when an industry might be short on staff resources and only recently I’ve seen it happen with Teaching and Trades (joiners, electricians etc). I can’t remember it ever happening with the digital/web industry even though its happening right under their very noses.

We’re currently going through a huge shortage of ‘talent’ in the web industry. Just so there is no confusion I’ll define what I mean by ‘talent’.

Talent: Active AND/OR Experienced members of the web/digital industry in the position or looking to move in to new roles AND students coming out of College / University with the experience needed for the industry.

I’ve talked about design education being broken within the UK before, and still believe it is. I’ve seen first hand the courses which colleges and universities are pushing to teach new students and how they’re going about doing it. On top of that, budget cuts in education is killing the education system in general. Web Design/Development courses in general are low in numbers across the board and the experience that the students are gaining before they look for employment isn’t enough for the jumping straight in at the deep end.

Looking for experienced developers (back and front-end) in todays industry is like trying to find a rocking-horses shit, you’re not going to find it. And for those companies looking for experienced designers to lead teams you’re going to be in that bracket as well.

The funded startup companies are currently buying any talent on the market they can find, and when you see facebook paying exorbanant amounts for summer interns of $5k per month plus $1200 for ‘living subsistence’, not many ‘normal’ companies are able to compete. That’s just looking at the interns. If we look at the more experienced members of the industry, in the US, they’re looking, according to salary.com to be on between $40’000 and $90’000 depending on location and experience. That range is 30-40% more than the industry in the UK. We simply don’t have enough bodies on the ground to cover the holes.

To give you an example. I was asked a couple of months ago if I knew of anyone looking for a new job. The roles were varied including UX/UI designers, Front-end & Back-end developers. The first question I had was if the company looking to employ had any money. The question raised an eye-brow, the next statement shocked the person I was talking to. “You’re going to have to buy people…” By that, I meant a higher salary bracket and golden handshake with an amazing benefits and culture type deal is going to be one of the only ways for people in our industry to be swayed to move to a different place of work. I’ve not spoken to anyone over the past year in our industry who is not enjoying what they’re doing so why should they move right..?

The shortage above isn’t helped either by the head-hunting which has started (I don’t mind a bit of head-hunting as long as its done fairly) but it just shows how short on the ground we are, even in the North East of England, it’s unheard of to be happening on such a large scale. I’ve spoken to several people who have ‘hitlists’ of names who they’re going to approach and that’s __if__ they can be caught before moving to another company.

The rest of the world drops us in to an I.T bracket, and I.T job listings have increased by 47% over the last year… most recruiters expect poaching and aggressive hiring strategies to only increase over the next 12 months. When recruiters for tech companies start jumping from one big ship to another that’s a true sign of all kinds of crazy gunna happen. Remember when digg made quite a few redundancies? Other tech companies were phoning personal cell numbers to get them to join their companies, there is HUGE demand for talented people.

If things carry on the way they’re headed, the web industry is going to be caught short with a lack of manpower to carry on the successes of the past 14-15 years. We’ve come so far and have accomplished too much to be restricted by something which can be fixed. I want to see our industry flourish like it has in the past couple of years and well into the future yet I’m also very aware this might not be the case if we don’t get things under control. We need to find a way to fill the gaps and not just by plugging holes but doing things properly, getting people in to the industry quicker because they WANT to do it. We require passionate people to have a level of understanding so they can be dropped in at the deep end and swim. We SHOULD be pushing Colleges and Universities in the right direction, we SHOULD be getting involved with pushing for the right curriculum to be taught, we SHOULD be accepting placements in to the industry sooner so they can get a degree of understanding of what we do. We are in an exciting time and I want to share it with plenty of others, we’re becoming so much more professional than we ever have been.

I want our industry to remain healthy for the right reasons.

What do you think?