Are students flocking to study computer science lambs to the slaughter or making right choice?

The number of people in the UK seeking to study computer science has increased by 12.3% to 86,294 compared with last year, according to figures from admissions body UCAS.

Is this madness at a time when thousands of IT professionals are out of work or are there genuine opportunities?

There is a huge debate around the availability of IT skills in the UK. There is increasing evidence that the UK will be in short supply of certain IT skills in a few years’ time. Figures from a European Commission report expect the UK will have a shortage of 100,000 people to fill IT jobs in the next few years. In Europe, including the UK, the skills shortage is expected to reach 700,000.

Yet there are thousands of experienced IT professionals out of work. Many of these workers, who I am regularly in contact with, lost their jobs when the role they performed was outsourced.

Businesses often focus cost cutting efforts on the IT department because there is an alternative from IT service providers. Companies in offshore can provide people to do the same job at less the cost.

The problem for the UK is that the IT professionals that are let go find it hard to get back in because they cannot compete on price. They stop developing and learning new skills unless they fund training themselves, which is easier said than done if you are unemployed.

Another problem is that new graduates in computer science find it difficult to get their first job within an IT department because many entry level jobs are outsourced. Research has shown that unemployment rates for graduates in computer science are higher than any other subject. Many in the industry blame the propensity for businesses to outsource and offshore work.

But as I explained in the intro the number of students seeking to study computer science has risen by 12% this year. Is this a case of applicants recognising that there is a genuine shortage of people with the right skills or are they being mislead?

Recently there have been lots of articles about apprenticeship schemes. These are being set up by service providers to help potential IT professionals develop the right skills and beak into the sector. See this interview about an apprentice with Capgemini who had previously given up on a Computer Science degree because of financial constraints.

Many believe that the very service providers that take over the IT roles are part of the solution through apprentice schemes. But what about those that have skills and experience but are now out of work. How do they get back in and compete for the jobs that are going to be in short supply?

Do you think offshoring IT work will create a skills shortage in the UK?