The failure of universities to keep pace with the demand for skilled IT staff is encouraging employers to turn to graduates from the arts and other disciplines to fill IT vacancies.
The number of non-IT graduates moving into the IT profession now exceeds the number of IT graduates by a third, research by the Alliance for Information Systems Skills reveals.
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Its findings show that although the volume of IT graduates has grown steadily in recent years, the numbers are still well below the level needed to satisfy demand.
"The growth in IT students is welcome and quite remarkable given the constraints universities are under, but it's not keeping up with the growth of the IT workforce," said John O'Sullivan, director of AISS, a coalition of employers, universities and training organisations.
The number of non-IT graduates entering the profession grew from around 3,500 in 1995 to 5,500 in 1998, while the number of IT graduates entering the profession rose from 3,000 to 4,100.
The trend is particularly marked among companies using IT, where the number of non-IT graduates joining the profession exceeded the number of IT graduates by a factor of two by 1998, the most recent year figures are available for.
Nearly 90% of organisations now provide IT technical training and development for non-IT graduates in-house and through external courses, AISS revealed.
The findings are contained in an unpublished report presented to the Department of Trade and Industry at the end of last year which attempts to address the need for stronger links between universities and employers.
Despite some gloomy conclusions, the report has eased fears that an unnaturally high proportion of IT graduates are leaving the profession.
A comparison of IT with other key professions shows that the drop-out rate for IT graduates is no higher than that for engineering, accountancy and law, with two-thirds of graduates choosing IT as a career.
Medicine is the only profession where a high proportion of graduates continue with their chosen profession.
By 1988 just over half of Britain's 4,000 IT graduates chose careers with IT suppliers, reflecting rapid growth in demand for outsourcing, the research revealed.