As long as I can remember, the IT industry has been complaining about a skills gap, frustrated by an education system where students choose “softer” subjects.
What surprises some is that, according to the latest statistics, IT and computer science graduates are more likely to be unemployed six months after they graduate than students in any other subject, a trend that has persisted for many years.
There are various factors contributing to a lack of skilled, experienced and qualified individuals in the IT industry, beyond the contribution of the education system.
There are training gaps, skills misalignment, and a market where employers have struggled to meet the rising cost of employing the best-trained technology talent.
During the 2000s, the UK IT industry mostly benefited from an influx of skilled and hardworking IT talent from new EU members, who were attracted by comparatively higher wages.
This allowed employers to hire relatively senior staff at lower cost. However, over time, as these workers began to experience the cost of living in the UK, the supply of low-cost talent dried up.
Meanwhile, this investment in outsourcing and offshoring even first-level IT support and app development meant that organisations failed to help the next generation of IT professionals through the ranks.
Industry insiders have complained that the education system over the past 15 years has done little more than teach students basic office skills. Issues of quality and relevance need fixing.
Working in the IT industry is also about people and business skills, which technical courses cannot and will not teach.
The government has increased funding for apprenticeships in skilled industries, giving school leavers a chance to study while applying what they learn.
By the time such courses are completed, individuals should have both the technical and business skills required. With university fees increasing, work-based alternatives for young people should receive even more focus and investment.
There are a number of organisations helping build a skilled IT workforce for the future, for example by encouraging employees to visit local colleges to talk about the commercial context to the skills students learn on their courses.
An ability to think logically and methodically also needs to be taught early, and does not have much to do with technology training. It is also not simply about using technology.
Access to high-tech whiteboards and iPads will not create technology whizz-kids with a knack for business - more targeted training and development is what counts.
A learning process
I concede that expecting university graduates to have all the skills needed for the workplace is unrealistic -- not least because every organisation has different needs.
We ourselves are employing graduates and interns whom we believe have the right soft skills and cultural fit for our firm. This includes having a good work ethic, communication skills, being a fast learner and a self-starter. We then work with them to develop their technology and business skills over time.
Things move faster in the technology world than in any other industry. And as technological innovation accelerates, skills will obviously become outdated, so life-long learning and ongoing development programmes are so important.
As employers we have to accept it is part of our responsibility to develop long-term career development programmes to keep staff happy, loyal and motivated.
In these ongoing tough and tumultuous times, though, the government should also take steps to ensure the unemployed are able to develop the right skill sets, and that IT staff can keep their expertise up to date. If they do not, they risk falling behind for good.
Ben Cranham is head of corporate accounts at Trustmarque
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