How can the UK enhance and inspire superior technology skills in the workforce?

A guest post by Nick Wilson, UK Managing Director, of HP


The UK’s ICT sector contributes £81bn of added value to the UK’s economy. The sector is the largest in Europe and employs over a million people who contribute 10% of GDP, according to UK Trade and Investment.


On the surface the technology sector looks very secure – after all, the internet alone is worth £100bn a year to the UK economy.


It is clear that the UK is in an enviable position, but it is not a secure position. What the figures don’t show is the technology investment gap in the UK, also called the IT skills gap. This is a problem that technology firms, and any organisation seeking to hire skilled technology staff, are facing right now.


The CBI’s Building for Growth report that showed over 40% of employers struggle to fill these skilled roles; over half expect this to increase. I have no doubt the problem is more pronounced in small and mid-sized companies who find it hard to compete for the best IT staff. These companies are the engine of growth for the UK. We all need their innovation, energy and insight and we risk hampering their growth potential by not providing them the talent pool they need.


A big impediment to growth, businesses face, is getting the right people with the right skills. Everybody I speak to, in the IT industry, agrees that the lack of job-focused IT skills in UK school leavers and graduates is causing recruitment problems in the technology sector at a time when we wrestle with unemployment across the country.


The eSkills UK Technology Insights 2011 report quantified this problem, reporting that the UK is failing to capitalise on the £50bn productivity gain which could be achieved through the better use of technology.


The technology industry is taking responsibility for this issue – we have to if we are to continue to innovate and grow. The sector is increasingly stepping in to help with approaches ranging from transforming the technology curriculum to investing in new entrepreneurs.


For example Vodafone Ventures global investment is set to invest in the next wave of wireless start-ups. Vodafone will also expand its high tech version of Dragon’s Den called ‘Mobile Clicks‘ to coach the next generation of online entrepreneurs. And Intel Innovators has launched a contest where entrepreneurs can win $100,000 each month for the best tech-based ideas.


For our part, we recently launched the ‘HP Institute‘, a new set of courses delivered by schools, colleges and training providers. This will give up to 20,000 people over the next four years the business and technology skills to help them secure long term careers and help businesses benefit from their skills from day one on the job. The courses have been designed to provide the kinds of skills that small and mid-sized companies need most. They cover the full realm of technology as well as a course on cloud computing and a vitally important module on IT and business which grounds the technology in the world of business.


This is the latest initiative in an ongoing series of programmes that has seen partnerships with The University of the West of England, De Montfort University and Buckinghamshire New University where HP jointly writes and delivers courses to directly improve the employability of graduates. And last year HP committed itself to creating new entry-level technology apprenticeships, in the Gosport, Portsmouth and Glasgow areas.


We’ve also seen that the government understands this issue and is making moves to address the skills gap, in particular, with the computer science GCSE qualification.


That does not mean there is less for the technology industry to do. On the contrary, we need more companies stepping up to the challenge to help broaden the horizons of the young and encouraging more of them to join this exciting, fast moving and profitable sector.

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Where was Nick Wilson when HP fired 3400 staff after its acquisition of EDS in 2008? Where was he when HP planned in 2011 to fire 200 staff working on government systems and move the work to India (plans subsequently abandoned in the face of an outcry from unions)? Did he not read in eSKills report how there were 37,000 unemployed IT workers in the UK in August 2011? Considering this guy is a senior manager at a major technology company, I'd expect him to be a little more on the ball over developments in his industry over the last 10 years. I'm sure he has the brains to realise that if you keep firing experienced staff and refusing to hire from that massive pool of unemployed and experienced IT workers (because you'd rather ship work out to India or ship cheap inexperienced Indian graduate trainees into the UK), then of course you're going to face a "skills shortage". So can he tell us how companies like HP think people can build "long term careers" in the IT industry, when he and his kind keep firing them and shipping the work out to India as usual?