Recently in Skill Category

Allow market forces to redress regulatory failure - A budget for IT enabled recovery Part 2

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There has been a chorus of complaints that the government does not have an industry strategy - as though this were to be deplored. I happen to be a Historian by original discipline and wanted to do research into the causes of growth, comparing economic theory with reality. My tutor, Maurice Cowling, set about dissuading me. He said I would find the answers in the real world and come back to Cambridge when I had found them. The attitudes of those who were happy to offer me immediate post-graduate places persuaded me he was correct.

I was then lucky enough to have three challenging years of systems engineering "apprenticeship" with STC and ICL followed by two years at the London Business School and the opportunity to lead the most successful of the industry strategy exercises that was the legacy of Tony Benn's Ministry of Technology. Later I had five years as Corporate Planner for a UK-owned multi-national, including helping organise inputs to the "industrial strategies" of nations around the world. Comparing their approaches to that of the UK did indeed lead me to some firm conclusions.

The most important is that British industry nearly always does best when Whitehall does least. "Planning" is all-too-often a euphemism for protecting the past from the future. An "industry strategy" is a euphemism for giving jobs to economics graduates not wanted by the private sector as investment analysts or corporate planners assisted by consultants touting for future business and lobbyists seeking grants to position their employers. The failure of UK government attempts to pick winners (over the past century !!!) gives no confidence that the Coalition Government can do any better. Even when ministers and officials pick the right race course they choose the wrong horses, train them the wrong way and enter them in the wrong races.

In 1978 - 9, I was part of the policy team (reporting via Ian Lloyd to Sir Keith Joseph) that looked to IT and Communications as the drivers of UK economic recovery. We called for Telecoms Liberalisation and Privatisation, a major government supported awareness campaign (it became IT 82) and a Micro in every school by 1982. I then watched as DTI turned low-cost success into expensive failure, draining enthusiasm with "challenge programmes" and initiatives while hobbling indigenous growth with:

- "investment protection" regulation that routed funding via remote pension funds and trusts while excluding the hands-on "angels" and informed local investors who are at the heart US success,

- "tax avoidance" measures which make growth companies pay tax before they have positive cash flows and reinvestment for growth, let alone to give a return to equity investors

- government procurement routines which actively discriminate against innovative new UK businesses in favour of overseas competitors which can quote their own governments as lead customers.  

Then came the Labour Government destruction of the enthusiasm inspired by the Micros in Schools programme, with mandated teaching on how to use an imported suite of proprietary office software. Finally, DTI and Ofcom set about reversing the Conservative policy of liberalisation leading to an open and competitive market. They may not have talked about reversing privatisation but, unless Ministers take action soon, current BDUK policy will re-create a BT-led cartel akin to that of AT&T and the baby Bells which the OFTEL regime was designed to avoid. 

The time has come to look back at what has worked in the past, (as well as what has never previously worked and is unlikely to do so this time round) and allow market forces to redress the failures of planning and regulation.

The four areas where I would most like to see a commitment to action in the Budget in order to help bring about a market driven, investment led economic recovery without calling for spend that HMG cannot afford are: 

Education for unemployment or training for the jobs of the future

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On 9th September I was tasked to organise a response from the Information Society Alliance to the BIS Consultations on: Skills for Sustainable Growth and A simplified further education and skills funding system and methodology. Both have a deadline of October 10th. I have just realised that I have seen no publicity for either and fear a re-run of the consultations we have had every couple of years for about thirty years - with responses dominated by those farming a system of state support that dates back to 1917.

However, the current spending crisis and need to preserve the UK from terminal economic decline may offer an opportunity to secure genuine change.  I therefore urge all those with an interest in the subject to make their own submissions as well.

UK recession wipes out business case for Offshoring - and more

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The April 2009 quarterly survey from Salary Services Limited (SSL) indicates that recruitment advertising has more than halved over the past year. Last week I heard a former offshoring consultant say that the impact of recession on contract rates, on top of the fall in the value of Western Currencies (not just the pound), had all but wiped out the case for moving East to save cost. 

Bringing forward the recovery: 2) Tax Free Training.

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Recession is a time to catch up on maintenance and training. Slump is a time for radical change in order to survive. That means you will need a very different skills mix when recovery comes. But so will everyone else. You will go down in the competition for the new skills. The same is true for UK plc. Part of the national recovery package should be a short order "tax free training" programme to use the opportunity to reskill the existing UK workforce for the 21st century.

Survival Lessons from the 1991 recession

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Yesterday I participated in a Computer Weekly discussion at the Dorchester on "Optimising the Delivery of IT Services". I was asked to open the discussion, having survived more recessions than the others round the table. In fact there was at least one other veteran of the decimalisation boom and bust of 1971 and most had seen 1991.  

Preparing your organisation for the next ICT Skills Crisis

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We have a multi-track skills market. The staff lucky enough to work for those who participated in the CELRE survey enjoyed increases in line with inflation (RPI) during the year to May 2008 while advertised salaries, as tracked by the equally venerable SSP survey, lagged behind anre are now often lower than for those in post. Meanwhile graduate recruitment programmes have been cancelled and recruitment advertising has fallen sharply.

Have data loss and recession destroyed the case for outsourcing and offshoring?

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The loss of the Home Office prisoner mash-up on an unencrypted USB appears to have triggered a long overdue "review" of the national children's database ("the honeypot for pederasts"). Meanwhile the inflexibility of current contracts and the drop in the value of sterling have triggered similarly fundamental reviews of private sector ICT strategies..

A crisis of quality not quantity: the UK IT Skills Market

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I have tracked IT recruitment advertising for over 30 years to compare what is happening in the market place with predictions, before it shows in official statistics, if at all . 25 years ago I stopped collecting my own data in favour of using Salary Services Limited . Their report for Quarter 2 2008 has, as usual, helped make sense of apparently conflicting evidence.

A latter day Cannery Row; filtering the cybercrud

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On Tuesday I chaired a debate between the proponents of PEGI, the European rating standard proposed by the Games Industry and the supporters of the rating system run by the British Board of Film Classification at the Westminster Media Forum seminar on the UK Computer Games Industry. The UK has now slipped from 3rd to 4th as a global player, overtaken by Canada, with its targetted tax incentives for the jobs of the future.  

Oil and Vinegar: Why we must spice up ICT education

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When Dick Vinegar questioned the value of current University ICT courses, citing the views of his grandson, he kicked open a hornets nest. I was therefore delighted to offer a guest blog to the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing to explain why he was both right and wrong.

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