Recently in young professional Category

Declining university STEM courses: Getting to the root of the problem

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A guest blog from Dr Mike Lynch, CEO and Founder of Autonomy


The reduction of STEM subject university degree courses is a worrying trend that will undoubtedly have an impact on the UK IT industry. The problem, of course, begins before university, and that is where it needs to be addressed.


In the last few years, the way ICT has been taught in schools has 2663_10_6-mike-lynch-chief-executive-autonomy.pngstilted the imaginations of the young by boring them with the tedium of learning to use specific applications, instead of encouraging them to be creative with how they use technology and gain more widely applicable skills.


There is too much focus on learning to use specific platforms and applications - which will be years out of date by the time pupils leave school - and not enough on the fundamentals of technology. Young people are inherently good at getting to grips with using technology - why spend weeks teaching them what they can teach themselves in hours?


Keeping children engaged in Maths and Science at school will improve the demand for those courses at university and, with the right kind of IT skills, lead to a more employable generation of graduates.



How can the UK enhance and inspire superior technology skills in the workforce?

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A guest post by Nick Wilson, UK Managing Director, of HP


The UK's ICT sector contributes £81bn of added value to the UK's economy. The sector is the largest in Europe and employs over a million people who contribute 10% of GDP, according to UK Trade and Investment.


On the surface the technology sector looks very secure - after all, the internet alone is worth £100bn a year to the UK economy.


It is clear that the UK is in an enviable position, but it is not a secure position. What the figures don't show is the technology investment gap in the UK, also called the IT skills gap. This is a problem that technology firms, and any organisation seeking to hire skilled technology staff, are facing right now.


The CBI's Building for Growth report that showed over 40% of employers struggle to fill these skilled roles; over half expect this to increase. I have no doubt the problem is more pronounced in small and mid-sized companies who find it hard to compete for the best IT staff. These companies are the engine of growth for the UK. We all need their innovation, energy and insight and we risk hampering their growth potential by not providing them the talent pool they need.


A big impediment to growth, businesses face, is getting the right people with the right skills. Everybody I speak to, in the IT industry, agrees that the lack of job-focused IT skills in UK school leavers and graduates is causing recruitment problems in the technology sector at a time when we wrestle with unemployment across the country.


The eSkills UK Technology Insights 2011 report quantified this problem, reporting that the UK is failing to capitalise on the £50bn productivity gain which could be achieved through the better use of technology.


The technology industry is taking responsibility for this issue - we have to if we are to continue to innovate and grow. The sector is increasingly stepping in to help with approaches ranging from transforming the technology curriculum to investing in new entrepreneurs.


For example Vodafone Ventures global investment is set to invest in the next wave of wireless start-ups. Vodafone will also expand its high tech version of Dragon's Den called 'Mobile Clicks' to coach the next generation of online entrepreneurs. And Intel Innovators has launched a contest where entrepreneurs can win $100,000 each month for the best tech-based ideas.


For our part, we recently launched the 'HP Institute', a new set of courses delivered by schools, colleges and training providers. This will give up to 20,000 people over the next four years the business and technology skills to help them secure long term careers and help businesses benefit from their skills from day one on the job. The courses have been designed to provide the kinds of skills that small and mid-sized companies need most. They cover the full realm of technology as well as a course on cloud computing and a vitally important module on IT and business which grounds the technology in the world of business.


This is the latest initiative in an ongoing series of programmes that has seen partnerships with The University of the West of England, De Montfort University and Buckinghamshire New University where HP jointly writes and delivers courses to directly improve the employability of graduates. And last year HP committed itself to creating new entry-level technology apprenticeships, in the Gosport, Portsmouth and Glasgow areas.


We've also seen that the government understands this issue and is making moves to address the skills gap, in particular, with the computer science GCSE qualification.


That does not mean there is less for the technology industry to do. On the contrary, we need more companies stepping up to the challenge to help broaden the horizons of the young and encouraging more of them to join this exciting, fast moving and profitable sector.

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Video: HP on the IT services people business

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In this video recorded at a Microsoft roundtable, Marc Waters, director of strategy and communicatuons for HP in the UK and Ireland takes about the the people business. He says 50% of HP's business is IT services, which means people are important. "They are the inventory and the R&D of the business. You have to invest in the skills of the people you have, and bring in the best people."

To support this, HP is identifying universities to form partnerships with and build innovations labs.

Video: Why work placements work

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In this video blog post Peter Goring, a student at Kingston University, talks about the need for university students to have some form of "guaranteed work placement." He says, "Many student do not understand the benefits of getting a placement."

However, Goring believes that if universities only select a few companies for industry placements, it may restrict student choice and their experience. 

H advises students to start early in the jobs market. "Students have to learn to sell themselves well and build a portfolio now, such as create a website from scratch, with lots of pictures of what you have done, using clear concise writing."

This video was filmed as part of a Microsoft roundtable discussion. Watch the video interview with Microsoft's Simon May >>
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Video interview: Skills upgrade

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It has been a few weeks since the last post. We have been busy at Computer Weekly working on a series of video podcasts on IT skills and training.

Simon May, previously worked in financial institutes, He has been a technical evangelist at Microsoft for a year. In this video May says that previously, there was a lot of stability in IT skills. However, things like cloud and consumerisation means that people have to upgrade their skills.

Given the state of the economy, he believes that businesses will need to reduce costs, while at the same time, grow. IT is one of the ways to achieve this, and so IT training is key.

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How do we train for the future? Part 1

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Information Technology

Image by DBreg2007 via Flickr

Matthew Poyiadgi, European VP, CompTIA discuss how we train the next generation of IT professionals, both for the specific challenges we face and to make the most of technologies we haven't even dreamed of yet.

"We should not get carried away. We need to continue teaching skills that businesses say they need today. Computers still need building, securing and connecting. Tablets, smartphones, and the plethora of bespoke technology used by different sectors, all still need integrating into existing systems.

That said, whilst dramatic change isn't instant, it may be pretty quick, and we need to make sure we are ready. We need two approaches to training; a short term one which trains in current and emerging skills and a longer term one which equips IT professionals with the skills they will need for life.

The short term approach means working closely with industry to identify what technologies they are using and what they plan to use, and develop training based on these. Right now this is probably cloud and tablets; in five years it could be completely different. Once these new technologies reach the tipping point whereby they can deliver serious business impact for a reasonable cost, then we need to work with the experts in these areas to develop the necessary training and certification.

Industry training can only really teach the technologies of the moment, and whilst these will provide an underpinning for some time, staying up to date means lifelong learning. However, this doesn't mean training can't equip people with broader skills that will always be needed. I will discuss this in my next blog.

The CompTIA EMEA Member Conference will include a session on how we train and motivate the next generation of IT professionals

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The trends that are shaping the industry

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In this guest blog pos  Matthew Poyiadgi, European VP, CompTIA, looks at the need for IT professionals to keep ahead of the curve by learning new skills.

One of the problems of training is keeping courses relevant in such a rapidly changing industry. I'll come on to training for the future in the next blog. First, let's look at some of the issues IT professionals will soon face, and which will be made all the more challenging without proper training.

It's been said before, but cloud and tablets will change the way we work over the next few years. The success of tablets could spell also the end of flash; cloud could remove the need for an OS, and HTML5 could replace everything so we just stay connected to the Cloud using a browser device. Servers won't disappear overnight so we will still need networking and computer skills, but they will no longer be a de facto part of IT. 

As people access company data from various locations and devices, security issues will change completely. Tablets can get infections from home networks, which can spread to the corporate network. Support for tablets' closed hardware system is very different to PCs.

Increased connectivity raises an even more worrying question. If we carry on as we are, how long before our internet IT infrastructure crumbles under the weight of all our data? As more people move to the cloud we need to change our technology to cope with this increase, or failing that, change the way we use IT. 

These are just a few of the challenges for IT professionals of the near future, and should be high on the agenda for anyone making big purchasing decisions in coming years. We need to train for technology used now, but we also need to start training people who are ready for these problems.

The CompTIA EMEA Member Conference will include a session on technology trends that are shaping the IT industry.

IT sector must speak in skills to bridge gaps in capability and boost IT workforce

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Kevin Streater is executive director for IT employer engagement at The Open University. The Open University will be contributing a series of articles for ITWorks over the coming weeks breaking down the skills requirements for making your way in the IT profession. First in the series looks how the problems the IT sector faces in plugging its skills gaps

Whatever the uncertainties around the economic climate one thing that is increasingly clear is that the fate of the IT sector will be central to the UK's economic recovery.

E-Skills UK's Technology Insights report for 2011 calculates the ICT sector to be worth £100bn to the UK economy - a figure they predict could grow by £50bn over the next decade causing employment in the industry to grow nearly five times faster than the UK average.

But as we have seen from concerns over imminent skills shortages and falling numbers of IT and computer science graduates, it is not safe to assume that we have the workforce to fill a widening job market.

The crisis in UK IT centres on the development of new professionals and the system that supports their development through to senior management. The future of the sector is being harmed by graduates who are frustrated at the standard and relevance of their personal development - and employers that are concerned that the graduates they take on lack the skills and experience to transfer their understanding of IT into the workplace.

It's a challenge that requires a brand new approach from educators, dispensing with the traditional course brochures and starting to speak in the industry language of IT skills and competency.

The fact is a lot the difficulties facing the IT sector at present come down to barriers, both perceived and real, that have cast doubt on the public's views of IT as an affordable and accessible profession with a traversable route up to well paid senior management roles.

If companies want to attract and retain the best talent coming out of university into entry-level positions (which often can't compete financially with those offered by the City and law firms), they need to demonstrate clearer career pathways supported by intuitive and strategic staff learning.

At the Open University we are looking to untangle the multitude of job roles and skills requirements which we hope will help kick start a new openness in IT and see the numbers return to an industry that desperately needs them.

Over the coming weeks The Open University will publish a series of articles aiming to introduce Computer Weekly readers to a new approach to IT education and professional development throughout their sector.

This new model is based on intensive research and industry engagement by the University, encompassing skills mapping and job profiling that together meet the capability requirements of modern business. By breaking down the business driven competencies for each role into a selection of skills elements these articles will demonstrate the change in skills demand as you work your way up the IT ladder and guide you through the education tools available to help you make this transition.

This approach will help CIOs and IT managers create a skills development path that will put in motion a conveyer belt, turning entry-level staff into the company's future senior management.

Throughout these articles we will be encouraging Computer Weekly readers to ask questions via the ITWorks hash tag #ITworksCW, the Facebook page and the comment sections under each article. These questions will be collated and the most popular ones will form the basis of final article with answers provided by The Open University's expert careers advisors.

Internships - one path into a career in IT

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Continuing on from her blog post about how to break into IT, Philippa Snare, technical sales and marketing director at Microsoft UK looks at the possibilities offered by internships.

Choosing a career is a significant decision to make and internships can help you make that choice. Internships are an effective way to gain experience and understanding within a new environment and industry. In my mind, it's essential for anyone wishing to pursue a career in IT to actually gain a practical taste of what work is actually like in the industry away from the classroom.
















Fortunately, a number of companies offer work experience for students giving experience of working in the IT sector. At Microsoft in the UK, for example, we offer 100 paid long-term internships every year. These internships put students into the heart of our business and offer them an authentic flavour of what life is like in the industry. Hewlett Packard also provides an intern scheme which introduces fresh and talented undergraduates into its UK workforce. The programme sees around 80 undergraduates work across HP's business in London, Bristol and Bracknell.

I spoke recently to Sergiy Okhotnytsky, who is undertaking an internship at Microsoft with the Bing team as part of his Computer Science degree at Kent University. Sergiy has already found his internship is giving him very different experience from university, he told me: 'The main difference is that I'm working on real products that are used by millions of people. We've launched a new feature yesterday and I can see it today - it's very rewarding and driving.'

Not only is Sergiy preparing himself for the world of work, but also preparing himself for the IT industry. He's not only developing his CV, but also developing the right skills to start a career in IT. Findings from the Higher Education Statistics Agency demonstrate the value of internships. It found that over a fifth of students graduating in 2009 found work six months later with an employer they previously had work experience with. This goes to show that students who've gained work experience, and whilst there have proven they are capable and hardworking, are more likely to attract the attention of employers and create more opportunities for themselves. People remember those who have made a difference, and internships give an amazing opportunity for you to make an impression, as you get the chance to break through any expectations very quickly.

The routes into IT

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Following on from his blog post last week on school ICT curriculum, Matthew Poyiadgi, European VP of CompTIA discusses why a degree in Computer Science is not the only route into IT.

The problem with IT's image is not just that the opportunities aren't well represented, but also that routes in are poorly understood. People assume they need an IT degree, then hear that lots of IT graduates (amongst other graduates) are struggling to find jobs.

I believe the focus on academia is misplaced for IT. IT degrees are good for some but are not the only way. For many organisations, hands on experience gained through IT trainers (eg QA, Just IT, Firebrand, Zenos) and backed by industry certifications count for much more.

CompTIA designs certifications with industry to identify the skills they need. Companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, etc, take much the same approach. Students we speak to who take certifications, such as CompTIA A+ followed by their vendor certification of choice, consistently land rewarding jobs.

When discussing IT careers - in IT lessons, careers advice sessions or the media - we should be clearer about how students can get in, and shift the focus away from IT degrees as the de facto route. This may work to our advantage - as education costs soar, a professional career with a recognised industry certification track may become very attractive.

Furthermore, we'd like to see this real-world focused approach throughout IT education, particularly GCSEs and beyond. We need to teach IT in a practical, exciting way which relates to how it is used in real life, as the aforementioned IT trainers do with great success. This will not only inspire more young people into IT and increase understanding of how to get there, it will also ensure they have the skills to get the jobs they want.

CompTIA has just completed a guide which hopes to help young people understand the many exciting options that a career in IT offers and can be viewed here >>