The BCS is talking to trade unions about co-operative deals which will not only boost membership but also help the society to get closer to employers to argue the case for professionalism in IT, writes John Kavanagh.
Talks with the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) and the IT Professionals Association, part of the white-collar MSF union, are leading initially to a pilot discount BCS membership scheme among AEEU members at IT services group Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. The AEEU has 500 members who joined Cap Gemini when it won the contract to run IT for Corus (formerly British Steel).
"The AEEU is particularly keen to promote professional qualifications, training and development for it members in its discussions with employers," BCS deputy chief executive Colin Thompson told the quarterly meeting of the society's governing council last week.
"It is also looking for ways to add value to its membership package, to aid recruitment and retention. The promotion of BCS membership and services, ideally with discounts, is seen as a way of satisfying both these aims," he added.
The BCS will consult its existing members in Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and will then probably offer a 20% subscription discount to AEEU members. This is the same as the discount deal the BCS has with IT bodies in other countries.
"There is a clear synergy between unions and professional bodies, and some significant benefits to be gained from co-operation," Thompson told the council.
For the BCS these include close contact and even influence with employers, not only in traditional industries but also in the IT industry itself. "As a result of the outsourcing of IT and staff by many public service and utility organisations, unions have a very significant presence in the main outsourcing companies," he said.
This is especially significant for the BCS, as its external relations board has recently started focusing on building relationships with employers.
The AEEU and MSF are talking about merging their two organisations. This will further strengthen the BCS' relationship with them, because it has been talking to MSF about co-operation for some time .
Peter Skyte, national secretary of the MSF IT Professionals Association, has been attending meetings of the external relations board, and has written an article about union membership for IT staff in the latest issue of the society's magazine. Skyte says his membership tops 12,000 and is growing by 20% a year as IT specialists' ambitions move from a focus purely on money to other issues.
BCS deputy president Alastair Macdonald assured the council meeting that any relationship with a union would be "dissociated from anything political".
Council members who spoke on the issue were enthusiastic. One view was that the society should ask about discount subscriptions to the union for BCS members.
"We haven't discussed that yet," Thompson said. "The main benefits we see are that we get good access to people who haven't joined us yet, and access to employers."