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What is the Scope of the it Skills Crisis and Are we Tackling it in the Right Way?

Jun 26, 2008
Recent research suggests that British Business requires 150,000 new entrants into IT each year. Over the past few years the number of graduates in IT has halved to 20,000.

The figures speak for themselves. Even the most ardent sceptic cannot deny the skills deficit that we currently face. But why does this gap exist and are industry and Government adopting the right strategies to tackle it?

In my view; it's all about career change - supporting individuals working in the UK's declining industries to retrain for a role in IT. But while this sounds like a practical common-sense solution to a growing problem, it is receiving little support.

Efforts are being made to promote IT to under-represented groups, such as women, but it seems that little is being achieved in terms of promoting uptake of the subject in secondary and higher education. From a relatively early age it appears that able students are led towards the sciences and IT skills are not given the same kudos.

The generation currently in secondary education has grown up with technology so their lives are dramatically different from their predecessors; access to the internet, mobile phones, sophisticated gaming consoles have all impacted their aptitude to and perception of technology. So it seems strange to me that more students aren't inspired to study for the jobs which shape and mould these inventions. It could be that they take the technology for granted, or it could be the age old image problem.

The other issue influencing the perception of the IT industry, and one which I believe is having an impact on the number of students opting for IT courses, is outsourcing.

At the present rate it is estimated that over 100,000 IT jobs will have been transferred overseas by 2010. Skills shortages in the UK are creating the economic imperative for companies to outsource to or recruit from overseas.

But while low-level helpdesk skills can be outsourced effectively and in volume, the challenge comes when trying to recruit for development and programming skills required by IT departments and service providers. India, for example, is able to fill the gap because it is investing in training its population, although whether this provides an immediate answer to the problem is questionable. And other countries such as China have some way to go before they can offer a solution for British industry. So why is the Government standing by and watching when we have large numbers of poorly skilled people keen to train but simply unable to afford to do so?

If the required number of people with the right IT skills aren't materialising through the British education system, or being sourced abroad, then the missing link needed to stimulate career transition into IT must be training.

In my view, this is the most practical solution which matches workforce supply and demand, giving individuals new opportunities while solving an industry skills deficit. But a lack of appropriate funding is holding up the process. The people most in need of the training, most likely to complete it and most likely to give the greatest contribution to the workplace after completion, are excluded from most funding initiatives. The current system falls short as funding for Government training schemes is channelled through employers; so training for a new career whilst working is inaccessible for the thousands of people unable to fund themselves.

The Government's development of Skills Accounts that would release funds directly to individuals provides a glimmer of hope. But there is no guarantee that the scheme will be adopted and it isn't planned to be rolled out for over two years. A more practical option would be to zero rate VAT for individuals funding their own training for a career change, but this has received little support.

To offer reassurance to industry, and a positive outlook to individuals, we must strive to provide choice and financial incentive to stimulate career change; this is the how we should tackle the skills crisis.
About the Author
Karl Parkinson, Chairman, Computeach - With over 40 years of experience in the IT Training Industry, Computeach provides innovative and truly blended learning solutions to a wide range of customers. For interviews, images or comments contact: Rosie Gallagher Marketing Communications Executive Computeach International Ltd Phone: 01384 245 308 Email: rosie.gallagher@computeach.co.uk
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