Deskilling Britain - the accelerating UK ICT Skills Crisis

Lloyds TSB recently announced that the move of two thirds of their ICT staff to India was not to save money. The UK throughput of ICT graduates has halved over past five years, is now below that in 1996 and is about to fall further. IR 35 led to the exodus of many of the most able and ambitious independent consultants. Today we see mounting pressures to address our increasing skills shortages (quality even more than quantity) by allowing in more immigrants.

70% of the UK workforce in 2020 has already graduated and their skills are atrophying. In the case of ICT skills the half-life is about 18 months – unless renewed. But the updating of workforce skills is outside current political priorties.

Without rapid action to remove the barriers to reskilling, many will soon be unemployable.

It is not just the threat to what is left of the UK ICT industry. The shortage of those capable of supporting computation intensive industries threatens the continuance of the UK as a major location for leading edge research, let alone product development and support, in pharmeceuticals, aerospace and multi-media content production and publishing.

The need is for a crusade, bringing together not only the ICT professional bodies and trade associations, but also the Trades Unions, to remove the obstacles to cost-effective reskilling and updating programmes for those already in the ICT workforce.

For over twenty years, since I ran the National Computing Centre studies into the skills crisis on the early 1980s I have been calling for indivduals to be able to offset personally funded training and mentoring costs against tax and for employers to be able count time under professionally supervised and accredited training, including the structured work expereince that is the most expensive part of most programmes, as “education” – and thus outside national insurance and PAYE.

Politicians have regularly listened but the idea of using tax incentives, as opposed to tax and spend has long been anathema to officials in what is now part of DIUS. Interestingly Treasury was always more receptive and wanted to know about the means of protecting against abuse – rather than dismissing the idea out of had. Indeed the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, piloted some of the ideas, including mandating “industry-strength quality control” of suppliers, in the ring-fenced funding for the highly successful Millenium Bug-Busters programme.

But we can now see the consequences of nearly twenty years of inaction on the part of what was the Department for Education and Skills/Science.since the recession of the early 1990s temporarily “cured” the ICT skills problem.

So what could/should you do?

1) Visit the CPHC website amd download the excellent paper on the IT Labour Market in the UK, published on 2nd June

2) Vist the e-Skills UK website and respond to the consultation on their five year strategy.

What is EURIM doing?

EURIM is organising a pilot exercise focussed on security skills, at all levels – with the aim of organising a tightly focussed battering ram to break the logjam by setting precedents in an area which is becoming of critical importance to government as well as industry.

This exercise began on June 4th with a workshop funded by the Cybersecurity knoweldge Transfer Network to start mapping the security skills scene, from definitions through accreditations, qualfications and courses to materials and mentoring.