News Analysis

IT manifesto aims for 250,000 new UK IT jobs

Cliff Saran

The IT industry, lobby groups, business leaders and parliament have all tried to make it possible for start-ups to flourish in the UK. But high taxes, inadequate ICT education in schools, poor links with universities, weak job prospects for computer science graduates and a general lack of IT entrepreneurship has plagued efforts to support home-grown Googles and Facebooks.

The Technology Manifesto, launched in the House of Lords, is the latest attempt by to improve IT in the UK, by encouraging greater adoption of IT in schools, improve the prospects for IT graduates and harbour a fiscal environment to support IT entrepreneurs developing start-ups.

A cross-party panel of parliamentarians and industry leaders are backing the draft manifesto, which aims to make the UK a leader in IT.

In many ways, the manifesto, which aims to build a prosperous IT industry, is following the well-worn path laid down by E-Skills UK and the Prince's Trust Technology Leadership Group, together with the efforts of parliamentary IT groups Pitcom and Eurim. Earlier in July, the Communication Management Association launched its IT manifesto, calling on the current and future governments to put ICT at the heart of economic recovery to breathe life into UK enterprise and the national economy.

This latest IT manifesto focuses on IT skills to help the UK economy grow over the next 25 to 50 years. This means the UK needs to attract and retain IT skills, says Lord Young, former secretary of state for employment. "We want to bring enthusiasm back into IT," he says.

Young and the other panellists at the House of Lords meeting, believe that young people do not have any real IT heroes, instead TV talent shows seem to idolise fame seekers.

There are not many stars in UK IT for young people to look up to. Yet without new blood, how can the UK hope to build another Autonomy or ARM?

"We are not valuing the IT sector. We are producing more qualified hairdressers and pub managers than North London needs. We need to inspire young people," says Labour peer Lord Harris.

The answer is not Alan Sugar or Richard Branson.

The biggest problem seems to be that IT simply is not sexy. The GCSE ICT syllabus is widely regarded as wholly unsuitable.

E-Skills UK is looking to address this with programme to help teachers bring technology more effectively into the classroom in collaborations with The Open University.

Karen Price, CEO of E-Skills UK, says, "To prepare young people for successful futures we need to transform the way in which technology is taught and used in education. This places new demands on the skills and knowledge required of teachers."

Funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), the £5.6m programme aims to help teachers, from primary through to secondary and college level, build their ICT skills. There will be a special focus on building the professional competence of technology teachers, providing them with, among other things, first-hand experience of the ways in which IT is used in business and to drive innovation.

But education can only go so far. Even if school and college pupils stick with it, and take IT courses at university, their job prospects are extremely poor, warns Richard Holway, chairman of TechMarketView. "There is an enormous gap with a lack of entry-level jobs for people with zero to five years' experience," he says.

"IP-based industries are the future," says Stephen Kelly, managing director of Micro Focus, which hosted the event. He believes the UK needs IT to improve the knowledge economy. "Our goal is to create 250,000 new jobs in IT."

This is quite a challenge. Culturally, the UK has been a poor cousin to the US, in terms of supporting start-ups. It is difficult to get funding, particularly if a would-be entrepreneur has failed on a previous venture. Tax breaks and red tape prohibit many from trying to start a business. The government and businesses need to change their attitudes, otherwise there is little hope of any IT manifesto supporting the country as it moves into the knowledge economy.


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