Recruiting programs, economy have lessened SAP skills shortage, SAP says

Is the SAP skills shortage over? SAP says it has enough people for its product demand and now will focus on certifying them.

SAP says it now has enough skilled professionals to handle the demand for its products, less than a year after the vendor said it was combating a massive SAP skills shortage.

Programs designed to alleviate the shortage, such as reaching out to its partners to recruit people, have enabled SAP to add 27,300 skilled professionals in the last year, the company said. In May, SAP said it needed another 30,000 people to implement and manage its products.

With the exception of emerging markets in the Middle East and Latin America, the economy is keeping the demand for SAP professionals flat. SAP will now shift its focus from quantity to quality -- increasing the SAP skills of that workforce in order to deliver a higher level of service to its customers, the vendor said. It will accomplish this in large part by pushing its SAP certification program.

"The wave of shortage is no longer the large wave that it was. We're now in a position where we believe we can meet all demand in all markets," said Joe Westhuizen, SAP's vice president for business development and strategy. "[Customers] want better service. Focusing on the quality allows us to do that for them. The market has given us a chance to take this breath."

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The certification push has nothing to do with recent high-profile ERP implementation failures, such as those at Select Comfort and Shane Co., which have been getting a lot of press attention lately, Westhuizen said.

But in this economy, customers expect more, and they want a better and faster return on their investments, he said. Certifications can help SAP gauge market levels of training and experience to deliver those goals. They also help the vendor ensure that the skills are available in the market when a new product like Business Suite 7 is released.

"Certification remains the baseline measure of quality in our ecosystem," he said. "Would you choose someone qualified as a doctor or choose someone with a lot of experience but not qualified?"

Westhuizen wouldn't go so far as to say the SAP skills shortage is over. With an aging workforce and fewer students signing on for science and math degrees, it could prove to be a perennial problem, he said.

Accordingly, SAP will still invest in recruiting college students through its University Alliance program. It will also seek help from its partners in finding qualified people to implement its software, specifically by reaching out to tier 2 partners in emerging markets for recruiting.

Also, Westhuizen said, demand for specific skills remains high, and the fact that the skills are there doesn't necessarily mean that someone will be able to find the right fit for a project.

It's a situation that SAP consultants say is true in the marketplace.

The economy has forced many companies to reduce the scope of implementations or put them on hold entirely, according to Justin Burmeister, a Basis consultant with more than 11 years of SAP experience.

But there are still many SAP skills in demand -- SOA/ESR, BPM, WebDynpro, J2EE development, X/PI, BI, NetWeaver and J2EE administration -- though certainly demand is much lower this year than in the last couple of years, Burmeister said. These are all fairly new to the evolving SAP product set, he said in an email interview, meaning that companies looking to use the technology may still have a hard time putting together the skill set they want.

"Companies looking to roll out new projects using leading-edge technology will be looking for experience and vertical expertise in these areas," he wrote. "So those brave customers spending money this year are often finding it difficult to find qualified resources, who must match very specific job descriptions and requirements."

Companies that are rolling out projects this year appear to be choosing ones with obvious ROI, such as extending an existing SAP landscape with new functionality or to new lines of business, or developing better BI strategies, Burmeister said. They're also integrating disparate platforms, sun-setting legacy systems with high maintenance costs, and streamlining operations and business processes.

The more complicated nature of these projects, which require an advanced set of skills, could be one reason why SAP beginners are having a tougher time finding jobs in this market. But senior consultants aren't having too much trouble, according to Jon Reed, a consultant with JonERP.com. The top skill set is a combination of Basis; security; and governance, risk and compliance (GRC); plus some functional knowledge of SAP FI.

But softening demand is good news for companies looking to hire SAP professionals, because they may have an easier time bringing on board a very experienced person who would otherwise take a consulting job.

"Whenever you have a down cycle, it's definitely an opportunity to capitalize on people willing to take a permanent role," Reed said. "It's not as exciting a market [in which] to be an independent person."

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