Offshoring IT is not making UK computer scientists the largest unemployed group, says BCS

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This blog has been focussing quite heavily on the potential damage to the UK IT industry caused by offshoring work to lower cost locations.

 

I recently quoted the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) which revealed that recent Computer Science graduates have the highest proportion of unemployed recent graduates.  Some 17% of 2009 graduates of computer science are unemployed say the figures. And many of the other 83% might not be doing a job related to their degree.

 

This blog post has had a lot of reaction. Although the majority of comments came from the "offshoring is destroying the UK IT profession" camp there are counter arguments.

I have contacted the British Computer Society (BCS) to get its view and got some interesting feedback.

 

Bill Mitchell, director of BCS Academy of Computing, says it is not the case of offshoring and outsourcing is destroying the UK IT industry it is just that the low skilled jobs are being outsourced.

 

And he said the HESA figures are misleading because only 71% of the computer scientist category is pure computer scientists. "The figures are correct, but they aggregate various IT related degree courses under the title of Computer Science.

 

Mitchell is very positive about the job opportunities for pure computer scientists at good universities.

 

Here's what he had to say:

 

"If you have a low skilled job there is a higher chance of your job being outsourced but if you are a software developer developing complex software you are very much in demand."

 

"When I've spoken to anybody from a good university they say almost all their graduates are getting jobs."

 

"We have spoken to several businesses and they say there is a shortage of computer science graduates."

 

"One or two of the large companies we have spoken to are going to Eastern Europe or the Middle East because there is a shortage of Computer Science graduates in the UK."

 

"If you look at all industrial sectors across the European Union 25% of all business spending on R&D is spent on IT. This compares to 13% on pharmaceuticals."

 

Here is the breakdown of the computer science category according to HESA.

 

Broadly-based programmes within computer science   0.15%
Computer science          71.11%
Information systems      20.10%
Software engineering     7.71%
Artificial intelligence      0.68%
Others                          (no figure)


"The term Information Systems is also confusing. It means very different things to different Universities, so that the amount of computing content in a CIS degree is very variable," add Mitchell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 Comments

The BCS has eagerly embraced its role as academic figleaf and apologist for corporate interests in recent years, but perhaps Bill Mitchell would care to explain all the accounts from experienced IT professionals describing how their own skilled jobs - indeed often entire departments - have been shifted offshore or down-graded to be filled with inexperienced imported computing trainees (ICTs). This is certainly one of the tactics used to replace UK workers with Indian ones: declare a previously skilled job less skilled, replace a skilled worker with a cheaper less skilled worker, then cash in on the increased profit margin while delivering lower quality results.

Meanwhile, I and many of my skilled and experienced colleagues have suffered long periods out of work in recent years, despite the alleged "skills crisis" that has been used as the excuse for this systematic dismantling of the UK IT industry in the first place.

It was once widely recognised in the industry, at least outside academia, that the IT sector is about more than computer science. We need people capable of building real IT systems for real business needs, not just theorists who spend all their time (and the customer's money) playing with different theoretical approaches, as I have witnessed on several projects. You wouldn't trust a theoretical physicist to build a bridge or an aeroplane, so why do you think a computer scientist should design your business critical IT systems? I suppose we have to expect as much from the head of an organisation called the British Computer Society, but Mitchell is clearly of the traditional school of snobbery in his belief that "mere" practical skills of engineering robust and reliable software solutions are less valuable than the niche theoretical skills of computer scientists. For every Google that genuinely needs computer scientists, there are thousands of businesses who need solid practical skills in software engineering to deliver their systems, precisely the skills that are being lost to the UK industry through offshoring and onshoring.

Ironically, the last 10-15 years have seen a widespread take-over of the industry by so-called computer scientists, with decidedly less than impressive results as far as I can see. I don't know about my (surviving) colleagues in the UK IT industry, but I have seen no signs that the last 10 years of offshoring/onshoring of UK jobs to mainly Indian IT workers - many of them proud holders of computer science qualifications - have done anything to improve the quality, reliability or costs of most IT projects.

If this is the future, it isn't working. Just like thousands of skilled UK IT workers.

So real computer scientists in the UK are always in demand despite offshoring to low cost regions, say BCS.

TBH a much larger section than this exits university nearly completely unable to program. I would expect a large unemployment, or at least a large "not employed in SE or CS", rate simply because far too many leave university unable to think clearly and code correctly.

This matches my experience. I have recently completed my UK university degree. While I was at university there was much doom-and-gloom about lack of job opportunities and the university even used it to promote their PHD programmes.

After I graduated, I posted my CV on a well-known job hunting website and started getting calls almost immediately. Within a month I had a job in the local area paying significantly more than the average I was being offered by recruiters.

BTW, my degree is a "2:2" from a university not particularly known for computer science. It is however a 4-year undergraduate masters, rather than the standard 3-year bachelors.

I don't have a degree, yet I am working as a software developer creating complex software. What do cases like these do to your figures? :P

Bill Mitchell is obviously an academic with little real world experience.

Fewer students are interested in IT and computing because they know the jobs are not in this country anymore, and that is what people still working in IT tell their kids. Just look at the comments here:
http://www.itpro.co.uk/626053/the-kids-are-alright-aren-t-they/2

The "lower skilled" IT jobs are often the hardest to offshore (as they require someone onsite), while a lot of the "high brow" research and development has been offshored to research centres in India.

Mitchell reminds me of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

All right, so Bill Mitchell stated, "When I've spoken to anybody from a good university they say almost all their graduates are getting jobs." No measurements, nothing empirical, just his gut feeling based on the one or two people who happened to bring it up.

I can see why Bill Mitchell has some sort of administrative job at BCS rather than an actual position that would involve the precise thinking and logic needed to develop software.

@Piter: "... far too many leave university unable to think clearly and code correctly..."

You may be right, but from what I've seen of the quality of Indian CS graduates on projects I've worked on recently, the only difference is that in the UK those people might struggle to find jobs, while in India they are hired by the bus-load and onshored to client sites in the UK and elsewhere for training/work experience, which of course reduces the opportunities for the next crop of UK-based graduates. Onshoring/offshoring is not about skills, it's about cheap labour, regardless of quality.

@Scott R.: "...I can see why Bill Mitchell has some sort of administrative job at BCS rather than an actual position that would involve the precise thinking and logic needed to develop software..."

In fairness to Mitchell, he does seem to have a strong research background ( http://uk.linkedin.com/in/wprmitchell ), although I see little evidence of him understanding the issues facing the wider UK IT industry beyond academia. After all, his job's not on the line, is it?

Surely there must be some Indian academic who could do Bill's job for half the money?

I am a Comp. Sci. graduate (4 year Sandwich degree) from a not-so-well-known University, graduated 4 years ago. Having worked for a large telecoms provider in my sandwich year and gaining experiences within the sector over the last 15 years at home tinkering gave me the ability to find work very easily after leaving University. However, this wasn't the case for most of my friends, which out of the 200 students graduating in 2006; I know the whereabouts of about 50% of.

The majority have found work, but with great difficulty and very low pay which, after months of searching, they welcomed with open arms and some have regretted ever since. With the looming recession in 2008, most were too scared to jump ship, or were cut and left unemployed without choice. Of those that didn’t find work, the majority have chosen not to work in IT, either because they were never interested in the subject or they found out after 3/4 years they were not good at it and/or couldn’t stand it (this is normal or other degree disciplines). Some, very few, have immediately left university knowing full well, they were never going to work in IT for example, one has become a semi-professional Cricket player for Oman, they knew what they wanted and good for them!

Having gone through the mill with IT, here are my thoughts regarding Comp. Sci. Degree's.....

1. A comp. sci degree is not going to going to guarantee you work.
2. If you want to work in IT, pick an area of IT you enjoy, beit Design, Programming, Systems, network etc. and study it hard in your own time, getting the external qualification like Cisco, MS, Checkpoint etc. Helps
3. A-Levels in Maths and Physics give you a great start, Let your knowledge expand in these area's beyond the A-levels.
4. Learn to program, regardless of which area you go in, it will be of great use. Get the basics and just learn to read code like English. Unless you plan to work as a developer, you don’t need to be an expert, but you'll NEED this skill.
5. Systems programming is a niche, very few jobs, very high pay, be careful, but if you got it...go for it!
3. Enterprise in ZERO at most universities...its all about, get a degree and you'll get a job. (With more experience your get better pay, most probably working for a guy who hasn't got a degree).

ENTERPRISE ENTERPRISE ENTERPRISE!!!!!
If you don’t take the risk, you'll never know!

4. Don’t be scared of creating start-ups or joining ones. Yes you'll fail. More than once. Don’t give up, there is more to live than working for 40 years for a pay check each month. Am not saying there is anything wrong with this, but believe there is more out there, challenge yourself. Would love to see the next Google, facebook, Twitter and/or youTube come out of UK Uni. Grads working out of garden shed for peanuts!

oh and one life lesson....
You don’t NEED to be on a property ladder, have a crazy sports car or wear the latest fashion gear. It’s not all about owning materialistic things, you can’t take it with you.

Let's make a different to human-kind and show the world what the UK is all about!!!!

Mohammed
Chitabox.com

So there you have it. If you are not from a "good" university the BCS is not really interested in you or your future and you deserve to have your job outsourced on you. Funny they don't seem to make a distinction about taking money from students only from "good" universities for BCS membership for their comedy Chartered IT professional qualification.

So you have to be from a "good" university, do you? I can tell you which are the "good" universities: Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, and possibly York and Warwick. THAT'S IT. Multi-national employers barely recognize the rest, and most people studying in other universities are being conned that their degrees will be valued by employers. The truth is that employers are replacing the mainstream UK graduates they would previously have hired, with Indian and Chinese programmers brought in on intra-company transfer, and/or offshoring the work; hence most UK graduates will experience a lot of trouble getting work in this field. The BCS is just another mouthpiece of the employers, whose overriding interest is to be free to keep offshoring and running ICTs. Just consider the strident outbursts from Vince Cable recently (who is clearly in the employers pocket) at the merest whiff of restrictions on ICT.

Well the five or so universities you mentioned are not the only good universities - Manchester, Bristol and quite a few in Scotland are also very good.

The problem from my experience is:

1) Computer science without the ability to program (e.g. C/C++, Java, Assembly etc. - not VB crap), understand UML etc etc. is pretty much pointless, there are too many people doing business & *computing* and computing - it's not computer science it high school/college IT.

They expect to get jobs, but in reality they are fooling their selves!

Jobs will get pushed overseas, but there's still plenty of work in the UK, the banks (IB's) would not likely push their stuff overseas speed is critical for them, neither would the government, nor would plenty of other organisations.

Eventually the jobs will come back when they realise the quality of the work just ain't good enough.

anon: "the banks (IB's) would not likely push their stuff overseas speed is critical for them, neither would the government"

Lloyds and RBS are shipping thousands of jobs offshore right now; many recent government projects have involved significant offshore/onshored resources; and all the major consultancies who take on work in the financial and public sectors have been systematically shifting IT work offshore wherever possible for many years now.

Wake up and smell the coffee (Java no doubt...).

Is this blog restricted to financial, business, and public services computing? There seems to be very little coverage of technical and industrial computing applications or industries involved in these sectors in this blog. Neither is there much coverage of software for entertainment or leisure purposes.

@Riaz:

I wonder if the financial/public sector bias you describe has more to do with the fact that these functions are often easier/more desirable to outsource?

Public sector IT is massively subsidised by the taxpayer, with grossly inflated margins for suppliers, so obviously the big outsourcing companies want a piece of the action. Government policy (heavily influenced by the consultancies and their pet politicians) forces public sector customers to use outsourcing providers, even if this is more expensive than doing the job in-house, and the catastrophic loss of skills from the public sector over the last 10-20 years leaves many departments with no choice anyway. Easy pickings for the big consultancies.

Meanwhile, many business/financial applications are fairly standard e.g. payroll, accounting etc, so it is easier for outsourcing suppliers to re-use skills/software for different clients, again boosting their profits. Also, these systems can be developed mostly by relatively inexperienced and unskilled staff (ICTs, graduate trainees etc).

More specialised scientific/engineering/industrial applications may not be so easy to outsource, because the required technical/business skills may be harder to find or more expensive, requiring more specialised investment by the supplier and reducing their margins. Also, the risks might well be higher in industrial IT for both sides of the deal. If your payroll system fails, it's inconvenient, but if the system controlling your chemical factory fails, you're in real trouble.

My impression is that most outsourcing suppliers have concentrated on the low-hanging fruit, i.e. applications and business areas that are easy to supply with cheap offshore staff and offer the largest profit margins. It also helps that many public sector and business customers are as dumb as a bag of hammers and easily swayed by the latest fads in IT management.

Maybe you should start your own industrial IT outsourcing company?

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This page contains a single entry by Karl Flinders published on September 27, 2010 6:00 AM.

Why did the DWP and Atos not want to release details of a £47m deal? was the previous entry in this blog.

SMEs too loyal to staff to outsource IT jobs is the next entry in this blog.

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