One of the world’s largest consulting firms says it’s having difficulty finding new recruits capable of handling SAP implementations.

Martin Chalifoux, a partner at Accenture’s

Montreal office, said his firm has been trying to fill more than 50 vacancies for SAP consultants for several months with little success. The company will probably only be able to fill about 30 of them, he said, due to a shortage of qualified labour in Canada.

The problem is actually a combination of a number of factors, said Chalifoux: there are more jobs available than skilled people to fill them, but the requirements of enterprise SAP users have also become more complex in recent years.

More companies are consolidating their IT infrastructures, either in an attempt to reduce overhead costs or as a result of going through a merger or acquisition. Upgrading existing SAP suites or integrating them with other IT systems is a complicated job requiring skilled consultants.

In order to keep pace with the number of SAP consultants it requires, Accenture is having to recruit people right out of university. The University of Montreal, for example, offers SAP-based courses. Accenture hires its graduates and provides additional training to mould them into IT professionals.

But new recruits with little or no field experience aren’t suitable for most jobs. “The expectation of our client is that they would like to see a team that has an average of five to six years of SAP experience,” said Chalifoux. “It’s not just university (grads), you need to blend a team with people that are more senior in some areas.”

SAP is also aware that there is a shortage of people adequately trained on its products. The company does what it can to aid the post-secondary education system in Canada by providing software to about 25 campuses and curriculum-specific material, but that may not be enough.

“These graduates coming out of these universities obviously don’t fulfill the requirements because they don’t have the business exposure and the implementation experience,” said Rob Marsh, vice-president of consulting delivery for SAP Canada.

“I think if you would speak to individuals when they talk about ‘qualified consultants,’ it’s really people from the business who’ve gone through implementations and understand how SAP works within the business environment.”

To augment the process, SAP provides a 10-day SAP certification course as an add-on to university programs. The company also provides certification training for its customers, partners and private individuals.

To combat its consultant shortage, Accenture is pulling in professionals from other countries, including India, France and Sweden, said Chalifoux. It may also offer more jobs to people with support – rather than implementation – experience with SAP, since they’re familiar with the products and have experience in enterprise environments.

There is a premium on SAP skills, said Chalifoux, and competition to hire people but Accenture won’t necessarily raise salaries to entice new workers. That would be unfair to Accenture employees with other skill sets, he said. He added that independent SAP consultants may be raising their rates right now, but skills shortages tend to be cyclical and the market won’t bare inflated rates forever.

In the short term, Accenture will be mixing up its own teams. As well as moving consultants from other Accenture offices overseas, the company will attempt to bring a balance to consulting groups by using recent university grads, more experienced professionals as well as some occasional help from contract consultants.

The company will also open an SAP-related centre in the Montreal area, which will officially be announced in the coming weeks.

Accenture’s problem is also SAP’s problem. SAP plans to staff up its own consulting force to meet growing demand, said Marsh, but the company won’t lose sight of its core business.

“As much as we’ll grow, our ambition is not to become a consulting organization. We’re a software organization. Our ideal model is to work with our partners out there and/or work directly with our clients,” he said.

Accenture is seeing shortages in areas other than SAP, said Chalifoux. The company is also finding it difficult to fill 15 spots for Siebel programmers.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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