Many IT directors would rather hire computing graduates and spend money on training them than buy in experienced contractors.
Despite the high cost of training, graduates offer better value for money, and are more effective than temporary staff, said IT directors at a recent roundtable discussion on skills and staffing.
But IT directors often face an uphill struggle to persuade their companies to invest in training and to support graduates, according to IT directors at the event, organised by schools IT supplier RM.
"Graduates are by far and away the best employees and contractors are the worst. Graduates are very creative and they want to get on," said Paul Spencer, head of development at software developer Snowdrop Systems.
The cost of training a graduate is equivalent to a month's salary for a contractor. But unlike contractors, who may be unwilling to work in new ways, graduates are flexible and can take the initiative, said Spencer.
However, it is important for employers to choose graduates from the right university and the right course, said Billy McNeil, development director at RM.
"If someone has done a good numerate degree they can pick up IT very quickly. The worst ones have wishy-washy degrees. They can recite verbatim how to do an IT strategy for a multinational, but they don't know anything about programming," he said.
Spencer said that the quality of graduates varied dramatically according to the university.
"The variation is incredible. I have had graduates who don't know anything about databases. We have a large number of graduates that say they have CML on their CV, but when we ask them, they can't do a simple test," he said.
Some employers felt they were losing out on talent, however, because they did not have the resources to take on graduates and train them.
"I would like to get people out of college and invest the time to develop them. I am up for that. We are losing out on a whole opportunity," said John Durham, head of IT at Innocent Drinks.
Abbie Akinfenwa, business systems manager at Prêt a Manger, said her options were also limited because her firm did not have the infrastructure in place to train graduates.
"It just does not wash to say 'I am going to get a graduate trained'," she said.
The decline in the number of undergraduates choosing to study IT and technology-related degrees at university has fallen, which has alarmed the heads of IT.
According to research by E-skills UK, the number of students that chose to study IT-related courses dropped by 43% between 2001 and 2006, and dropped by 14% in 2006 alone.
Maddie Smith, careers consultant at the University of Manchester, said that good students were being put off IT courses because of the perception that IT jobs are being offshored.
"Offshoring is a subject that a lot of students bring up. There is a perception that there are no jobs," she said.
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This was first published in March 2007