Computing as a career had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. Even the 1990s saw the young getting into telecoms, e-security or web design. So what has gone wrong with IT as an appealing career for young people?
According to a Computer Weekly poll (15 August), even those in IT seem to advise their own kids to avoid IT as a career.
When I was doing A-levels (maths, further maths and physics), the pressure was on to go into computers because it was seen to be the career for the mathematically minded. But it was the last thing I wanted to do.
Why? Well, it looked really boring and nobody could tell me what to expect. Ten years later my cousin was advised by her careers mistress to avoid computing because it was boring. She became an admin clerk for the council instead.
Fortunately, over the past 40 years lots of people have seen the massive opportunities and got into computing. Curiously, some of the most successful in their careers have been the arts graduates. This demonstrates the wide variety of skills required to deliver successful IT support to a business.
But why have we come full circle in that IT is not at all the subject or career of choice for the young? I thought I knew, but wanted to check it out. Who better to ask than my 20-year-old daughter and her friends?
Most of them did not do GCSE computing because it was: a) boring, b) very boring or c) extremely boring. Why did they need to know how to build a computer or how to mend a computer? It was in other subjects that they learnt how to make use of a computer to help them do their homework and exams better.
Those that did GCSE computing "chose" it because of parental pressure - it was felt they would need computing to be successful in business. So even their parents did not understand what GCSE computing was about.
They were, however, correct about needing to be totally computer literate to be successful in business.
They read it in the papers
They also remarked that because everything was being outsourced to India, there would be no IT jobs left in the UK, so why go into something that had limited opportunities for the future? Who says teens do not read the newspapers?
Also, girls do not find computer science at degree level attractive because they expect all the boy students to be nerds only interested in sitting in front of a screen all day.
Maybe this image is a reflection of why a career in computing is not understood properly. Maybe there needs to be more marketing of what the huge range of careers within IT can offer an individual.
I made the offer to my daughter's school for one of my female managers to visit the sixth form to talk about her job. Despite chasing several times, my offer was never taken up.
We all need to work to change the image that the young have of computing and get them to see it as exciting, interesting, pretty well-paid and with a huge array of opportunities to choose from.
CV: Margaret Smith
Margaret Smith advises business and government on IT and skills issues. Formerly chief executive of CIO Connect, she was also CIO at Legal & General. She has been a non-executive director of insurance standards body Origo Services and sat on the UK Cabinet Office Portal Board.
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This was first published in October 2006