Last month's "Technology Insights 2011" report from e-Skill UK warned that the IT sector requires 110,000 new entrants a year from education, unemployment and job switchers to fulfil its potential.
First the bad news: the number of Computing A-levels taken in the UK has declined by 60% since 2003, and IT graduates have declined by 44% since 2001. With increased tuition fees this is unlikely to change - e-Skills anticipates just 18,200 entrants from education. This leaves 91,800 to recruit through other avenues.
The good news is that talented people in all sectors are looking for work - the challenge is to attract them into IT.
Identifying the skills gap
Many don't consider IT as a career path because they assume it's all about programming and requires a computing degree. However, recent CompTIA research found the skills most in demand are project management (listed as a required skill by 80% of respondents); database administration/design (77%); business intelligence (75%); PC/technical support (71%); and cloud/SaaS (70%). Close behind were network administration (66%), virtualisation (65%) and security (63%).
Intelligent, motivated people can quickly acquire these skills to begin building an IT career. Once on the ladder they can rapidly become an integral part of an organisation's IT staff, as well as helping solve the impending shortage of IT professionals.
Connecting people looking for jobs with jobs looking for people
If UK plc is to reap the economic benefits of IT, we need to ensure good training and qualifications are available to attract new blood and develop existing professionals.
There is encouraging news. The government's Blueprint for Technology aims for the UK to become the most attractive place in the world to start and invest in IT companies. It plans to fund 75,000 additional adult apprenticeships by 2014/15.
This is a great initiative, but alone is not enough. It is imperative that IT companies - who have the most to lose from lack of skills - also act to bring people in. IT companies need to attract non-IT professionals and provide them with training and hands-on experience. Certifications are an important part of the process, particularly for recent entries to the profession, as they validate an employee's skills and boost their confidence.
There are plenty of courses and training routes to attract non-computing professionals and enthusiastic school leavers. The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) is a good starting point for organisations to identify skills gaps and relevant training and certification to fill them.
Don't forget about our existing talent
We must not forget about the talent we already have. The report showed one in 10 firms reported gaps in IT staff skills, which is cause for concern. We are relied upon to keep abreast of the latest technical innovations and security threats in a rapidly changing world - we can't afford not to keep skills up to date.
Training and certifying existing staff equips them with the expertise and motivation to meet an organisation's changing needs and supports career development. In an industry with more jobs than qualified people, employees can afford to be picky. Companies need to show them they are valued. Training and certification is one of the best ways to boost staff retention and recruit top talent.
Not being left behind
It is critical, both for our sector and the UK economy, that we increase the numbers of IT professionals. This means promoting the value of a career in IT, and training and certifying IT staff.
If we don't invest in developing our workforce we will be left behind, while other countries and companies reap the rewards of this lucrative sector.
Matthew Poyiadgi is European vice-president of CompTIA, which aims to advance the IT sector through educational programs, market research, networking events, professional certifications, and public policy advocacy.
This was first published in February 2011