News Analysis

Big Ambition: Britain must develop IT skills or face crisis

Rebecca Thomson

Stephen Carter's Digital Britain report was a "brilliant idea" but needs more than ambitious words if it is to succeed.

Technology employers, teachers, campaigners and students heard yesterday that the government needs to act urgently to address IT skills shortages in the wake of Digital Britain.

The Big Ambition event, organised by the IT sector's skills council, E-Skills UK, aimed to find ways to inspire young people in technology.

While reaction to the Digital Britain report was generally positive, Logica CEO Andy Green says there is not enough action backing up the ambitious words.

"The UK has been dependent on the financial services industry for growth for years. There is now a real crisis about where wealth creation is going to come from in the UK over the next 10 to 20 years. The future of the UK's growth will be dependent on technology skills, but there is no urgency from the Conservative or Labour parties," he says.

"The government is listening, but they are going to start with initiatives targeting primary school kids. We will be dead before we get to the stage we need to be at."

Catherine Doran, director of corporate development at Network Rail, says teenagers don't make the connection between the technology they use every day - such as Facebook, iPhones and innovative websites - and having an interesting career in technology.

"The Digital Britain report is a starter, but it is only worthwhile if it is followed by hard plans - like looking at the GCSE curriculum, which currently teaches kids things they already know," she says.

It isn't just professionals who have plenty to say on the state of UK technology skills; Kerry Benford, a student on the IT and business management degree at University College London, says, "The Carter report has some brilliant ideas but I think it falls on some deaf ears in government. It needs to be urgent - we need to push it because otherwise we are going to fall behind. IT is at the centre of every business."

Other employers at the Big Ambition event included the BBC, Carphone Warehouse, IBM, Tata Consultancy and British Airways, with all of them keen to talk about how much they need young, bright enthusiastic people.

"We want people who can look at the next generation of technology and see how our processes need to change as a result," says Keith Little, CIO at the BBC.

Carphone Warehouse CTO Simon Post emphasised how important technology is to the business, saying, "Nothing goes on in Carphone Warehouse that me and my team are not involved in."

Karen Price, CEO at E-Skills UK, says changing the IT curriculum in schools is the "most important reform that needs to be made to education".

"We must make sure teachers are supported to deliver the curriculum in an inspiring way. The strategic importance of technology is not just relevant to the IT industry. It will underpin the creative economy, manufacturing, the low-carbon agenda and everything else," she says.

"Stephen Carter's report has set out a journey for us to embark on. To realise his vision we need IT professionals in the future who are going to design, create and exploit the technology."

E-Skills UK is campaigning to get more young people inspired by technology via its Big Ambition website.


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