IT sector must speak in skills to bridge gaps in capability and boost IT workforce

Kevin Streater is executive director for IT employer engagement at The Open University. The Open University will be contributing a series of articles for ITWorks over the coming weeks breaking down the skills requirements for making your way in the IT profession. First in the series looks how the problems the IT sector faces in plugging its skills gaps

Whatever the uncertainties around the economic climate one thing that is increasingly clear is that the fate of the IT sector will be central to the UK’s economic recovery.

E-Skills UK’s Technology Insights report for 2011 calculates the ICT sector to be worth £100bn to the UK economy – a figure they predict could grow by £50bn over the next decade causing employment in the industry to grow nearly five times faster than the UK average.

But as we have seen from concerns over imminent skills shortages and falling numbers of IT and computer science graduates, it is not safe to assume that we have the workforce to fill a widening job market.

The crisis in UK IT centres on the development of new professionals and the system that supports their development through to senior management. The future of the sector is being harmed by graduates who are frustrated at the standard and relevance of their personal development – and employers that are concerned that the graduates they take on lack the skills and experience to transfer their understanding of IT into the workplace.

It’s a challenge that requires a brand new approach from educators, dispensing with the traditional course brochures and starting to speak in the industry language of IT skills and competency.

The fact is a lot the difficulties facing the IT sector at present come down to barriers, both perceived and real, that have cast doubt on the public’s views of IT as an affordable and accessible profession with a traversable route up to well paid senior management roles.

If companies want to attract and retain the best talent coming out of university into entry-level positions (which often can’t compete financially with those offered by the City and law firms), they need to demonstrate clearer career pathways supported by intuitive and strategic staff learning.

At the Open University we are looking to untangle the multitude of job roles and skills requirements which we hope will help kick start a new openness in IT and see the numbers return to an industry that desperately needs them.

Over the coming weeks The Open University will publish a series of articles aiming to introduce Computer Weekly readers to a new approach to IT education and professional development throughout their sector.

This new model is based on intensive research and industry engagement by the University, encompassing skills mapping and job profiling that together meet the capability requirements of modern business. By breaking down the business driven competencies for each role into a selection of skills elements these articles will demonstrate the change in skills demand as you work your way up the IT ladder and guide you through the education tools available to help you make this transition.

This approach will help CIOs and IT managers create a skills development path that will put in motion a conveyer belt, turning entry-level staff into the company’s future senior management.

Throughout these articles we will be encouraging Computer Weekly readers to ask questions via the ITWorks hash tag #ITworksCW, the Facebook page and the comment sections under each article. These questions will be collated and the most popular ones will form the basis of final article with answers provided by The Open University’s expert careers advisors.

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