IT staff are to be given new opportunities to have their experience and skills recognised with a professional title under far reaching changes to the BCS membership grading.
The changes, which promise simpler and earlier entry to BCS grading, have been described by the society as one of the most significant developments in its 46-year history. The grades were voted in by members last month by a majority of more than 97%.
Subject to necessary approval by the Privy Council, the changes will take effect from 1 May 2004. IT professionals with five years' experience, or less if they have a relevant academic qualification, will be eligible for the professional grade of member, or MBCS. Those with one year's experience can claim the associate member title, or AMBCS.
At present, people seeking a professional grade go through a lengthy application process. The changes will not only simplify the criteria for professional membership but also the process by which people gain a professional grade: the aim is to complete the process within days of an application.
The BCS said the grades will give large numbers of IT specialists the opportunity to gain a professional title and recognition of their experience, which will add to their career prospects.
The fellow grade (FBCS) will continue to be the mark of a senior professional, and the BCS is also aiming to retain its chartered status with the new title of "chartered IT professional" to denote the highest, gold standard.
Detailed assessment of applicants for chartered status is being streamlined to "dramatically reduce" admission time, the BCS said.
Speaking after an extraordinary general meeting where the changes were approved, BCS chief executive David Clarke said, "These changes are part of our plan to build a professional body which is more inclusive and representative of the IT community.
"We have listened very carefully to what IT professionals have been telling us for some time and we know there is real support for our vision of a strong, independent professional body leading the development of IT as a true professional activity.
"Today our own members have said very emphatically that they share that vision."
Clarke adds, "The BCS is seeing record demand for its qualifications, its views are increasingly being sought by government and its voice is being heard by employers.
"By becoming even stronger as a representative body, the BCS and its members can achieve even greater influence in the IT community and greater credibility in the eyes of society, government and industry.
"The implications of these proposed changes will potentially affect everyone in the IT profession. We believe IT to be the profession of the 21st century and, with its proposed new membership structure, the BCS can be its worthy champion."
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Ordinary membership: Available to students, companions and associates
Professional membership: For those with a specified academic qualification and/or two to five year's experience in IT, who are committed to the code of conduct
Fellow grade membership: For senior professionals
Chartered membership: For those who have satisfied experience requirements and have accredited their competence through the BCS process.