Something is broken in UK IT skills and recruitment

The oldest, longest running story in Computer Weekly is the IT skills shortage.

No matter what the time period, the latest technologies, or the state of the economy, the UK IT sector has never yet been able to say, “OK, we’ve got enough people now – thanks.”

It’s a topic that also invokes a lot of scepticism, particularly from out-of-work IT professionals struggling to find a job, where employers’ claims of a lack of suitably skilled individuals bears no relation to their job-hunting experiences.

But recently, we have seen more evidence that when it comes to IT skills and recruitment in the UK, something is fundamentally broken.

According to a City & Guilds survey of 1,000 UK companies, 74% of employers in the digital, IT and information services industry claim to be facing a skills crisis, and 50% of digital businesses are considering looking abroad for potential candidates.

Yet we also learned this week that the UK’s recent computer science students make up the largest group of unemployed graduates. One in 8 of the 2012 class of computer science graduates are still unemployed.

There is a higher proportion of history and philosophy students in work than computing, also more language, creative arts, social studies, agriculture and media studies graduates have found work.

There are, of course, a host of other issues in the mix here.

Many business claim that universities don’t prepare computing students for the real working world and that courses don’t keep up with the latest trends and technologies. Some firms still prefer to outsource entry-level IT jobs to lower-cost offshore locations. And the range of skills needed by digital businesses extends beyond just the basic technical capabilities and into other disciplines.

But whatever the reasons, it’s clear that not enough employers trust enough young people to bring them into the IT profession – no matter how great the needs of the business to fill that skills gap.

The growth in IT apprenticeships is a welcome trend that runs counter to that lack of trust. But the root of the problem surely lies in corporate attitudes to training – an area that, in austere times, has been cut to the bone. Training budgets are a dirty word.

Sure, universities can do better; schools can do better; IT professionals themselves can do better at developing their own skills. But it’s about time IT employers started taking their share of the responsibility for ending the skills shortage by investing in training and young people to finally close that gap.