Making your way in IT: Advice for entry-level IT professionals

The Open University’s Kevin Streater looks at pathways open for those in entry level IT positions. What are the options for career progression and how can educators and industry work together to develop routes that increase IT’s attractiveness as a career option?

Much of the focus on the skills crisis in IT has concentrated on getting people into the sector. It is sometimes easy to forget that the first step on the ladder should be the first of many, and developing our entry level IT professionals to become senior decision makers and leaders within their departments or organisations is vital to retaining talented people in our sector.

This commitment requires employees, employers and educators to forget about an off-the-shelf approach to staff training, which on its own is often too theory based with little relevance to direct business benefits, and instead look at staff development as a longer term, strategic process.

The Open University is spearheading a change in approach by driving better collaboration between industry, government and education to address this issue. The University was quick to recognise the importance of the work conducted by SFIA (the Skills Framework for the Information Age), which harnessed business expertise to develop a set of accurate IT job profiles. These detail the skills required for positions right up to board level from the point of view of those in charge of filling them. 

Below is a summary of the mid-level roles identified by SFIA that entry level IT workers can work towards.

Business Analyst
Accountable for identifying business needs, capturing requirements and determining solutions to business problems.

Development Manager
Responsible for ensuring that systems development (programming, coding, systems integrations etc) taking place in, or on behalf of, an organisation is aligned to the strategic goals of the organisation.

Enterprise Architect
Works with stakeholders, both leadership and subject matter experts, to build a holistic view of the organisation’s strategy, processes, information and information technology assets. They then use this knowledge to ensure that the business and IT are in alignment.

Programme/Senior Project Manager
Oversees and controls delivery of several related projects. At the senior level this could involve managing a portfolio or projects or programmes.

Service Level Manager
A service level manager is responsible for the monitoring, reporting and ongoing improvement of a set of services and the associated service level agreements

IT Procurement Specialist
Responsible for the acquisition of goods and/or services at the best possible cost, in the right quality and quantity, at the right time, in the right place and from the right source.

By mapping our courses to this framework, Open University students currently at more junior levels within an organisation, can work with their employers and the University to tailor their learning to any of these roles, helping them make the right choice for the next rung on the ladder.

Click here for further details on the key skills those looking to move into these roles must acquire in order to succeed, and how these can be developed through specific Open University courses.

This new approach will not only improve the system that turns talented entry level IT workers into tomorrow’s senior managers but also change perceptions of IT as a career choice for those outside the industry.

Whilst graduates in the early noughties saw IT as an exciting, energetic industry with real prospects for career progression and routes to well-paid senior roles, the view today is very different.

Low-level IT workers are underpaid compared to their colleagues in the city or law and unhappy with the opportunities to move up. A UNITE survey of UK IT employees at the start of the year found 62% felt they lacked the necessary training to keep their skills up-to-date.

As the industry loses unhappy but talented workers its reputation as a potential career choice for the next generation suffers. If companies want to attract and retain the best talent coming out of university and maximise the potential of the talent already at its disposal, they need to demonstrate clearer career ladders supported by intuitive and strategic staff learning.

Also read:

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

First steps towards a career in IT by the Open University