IT employment stats show scale of the problem of engaging young people to work in IT

The latest statistics on UK IT employment confirms what I had suspected – and blogged about late last year – about young people’s prospects as IT professionals.

According to e-Skills UK, the IT sector skills council, the proportion of the UK IT workforce below 30 has dropped from 33% in 2001 to just 19% in 2010 – and this in an industry that had for years been accused of ageism.

The e-Skills survey also says that UK IT needs 110,000 new entrants into the workforce this year, and that 17% of those are expected to come straight out of education – which means more than 18,000 students becoming IT professionals this year.

You would have thought this would make IT-related topics attractive to study – but computer science graduates have the hardest task of any degree course finding work: 17% of 2009 computer science students were unemployed a year after they graduated.

Of course employers will say that they don’t just need technical skills and will recruit from other subjects – which is all good of course, but equally says very little for what they think about the product of current computer science degrees.

I’m sure if you talked to someone outside the IT industry, and told them that the profession is struggling to recruit enough young people, they would be gobsmacked, given the enormously tech-savvy generation that has grown up on the internet, using Facebook through their iPhones every day.

Talk to almost anyone inside the IT industry, and they will point a finger at secondary school IT education, which is almost universally seen too be, well, frankly, rubbish.

Research released at the BETT education show earlier this month suggested that 71% of 16 to 18-year-olds surveyed said they learn more about technology outside the classroom, while 58% said they have a greater level of understanding of IT than their teachers.

And experts at BETT hit out against an outdated IT curriculum and unenthusiastic teaching staff as reasons for low student take-up of the subject at school.

The curriculum is awful – all about how to use Word and Excel, which for 11- or 12-year olds must be like reading Rupert the Bear for English Literature given their familiarity with PCs, smartphones and gaming by that age. Surely it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that kids at that age will be engaged by topics like, how does your Xbox work, or how to develop an iPhone app, or what is the technology behind a mobile phone network?

The BCS, for one, is on the case, and a delegation from the Chartered Institute for IT was due to meet universities minister David Willetts this week to discuss what IT employers want from university graduates. They hope to also get an introduction to schools secretary Michael Gove, to discuss reform of the IT curriculum.

But all this takes time – and if e-Skills is correct, with 110,000 new jobs to fill in IT this year alone, it’s going to be a struggle to meet those short-term needs. And sadly, if IT employers can’t find the resources they need here in the UK, they all now know there is a huge graduate population in India and elsewhere only too eager to contribute to UK IT in a way that you won’t see from UK youngsters.