Polarised jobs market is not enticing to youngsters
The IT skills market has polarised. Rising salaries in inner London and other financial services centres reflect increasing competition for those with the abilities to help the City cement its position as the global centre for developing and deploying leading-edge financial services applications.
Meanwhile, advertised salaries across the rest of the UK are commonly stagnant or falling as jobs not requiring experience of sector-specific applications move overseas.
The software and services industry faces similar pressures as the government begins the long overdue process of looking at what works and reusing the best of what it has already paid for.
This may not be a good time for changing jobs but it is a time to acquire the skills of the future - for example, to specify, develop, manage and maintain systems to handle secure and validated online activity at every level, from interactive video games to global transaction systems.
There is a glut of those with middling skills (neither first-class technicians nor world-class professionals, developers or researchers) while the growth industries of the future face a lack of talent.
We have to rebuild the image of IT so that undergraduate courses once again attract the best school leavers. We need effective frameworks to re-skill those already in the workforce, whose original skills or disciplines are no longer in demand.
The effective use of leading-edge systems and thinking to support complex multi-disciplinary research may be at the heart of finding solutions to most of the world's problems: from climate change to supporting an ageing population, or identifying and monitoring terrorists.
The intellectual challenges may be breathtaking, but the brightest and best of our teenagers do not see it that way. They see The IT Crowd, spam and phishing. They see muddled political thinking leading to public sector service shambles, which are blamed on IT, not those who specify requirements and agree contracts without considering user needs.
The IT professional bodies and trade associations must work together with the major users in the knowledge-based industries and the suppliers of their computation and communications infrastructures.
They need - through E-Skills UK and political channels such as the Parliamentary IT Committee (Pitcom), the All Party Internet Group (APIG) and parliamentary and industry group Eurim - to focus policy and practice on re-skilling the workforce and attracting, motivating and educating the next generation of potential recruits.
If they do not, we will end up impoverished, surfing the cybercrud on the periphery of the global knowledge economy, lacking even a good supply of competent technicians to support what we import from China.
Philip Virgo is strategic adviser at the Institute for the Management of Information Systems
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This was first published in January 2007