E-skills battle plan for UK plc

"Unsustainable" shortage of IT staff could damage the UK's e-commerce growth. Bill Goodwin reports

"Unsustainable" shortage of IT staff could damage the UK's e-commerce growth. Bill Goodwin reports

Employers, suppliers and the Government are being urged to back a £15m plan to find a solution to the growing shortage of IT professionals in the UK with e-commerce skills.

The plan, which opened for consultation this week, aims to bring thousands of workers into the IT profession every year to meet the needs of businesses to develop e-commerce projects.

The three-year project, co-ordinated by the E-skills National Training Organisation (NTO), one of the Government's flagship training partnerships, represents the most ambitious attempt so far by the IT profession to tackle the UK's underlying IT skills shortages.

Without an additional 150,000 to 200,000 trained professionals each year, the development of e-commerce in the UK will not reach its full potential, the plan, revealed exclusively in Computer Weekly, claims.

Over the next three years, IT skills shortages could cost the UK $50bn (£34bn), says the E-skills NTO. One in five companies are reporting lost orders and 12% of current IT jobs remain unfilled.

"The current situation is unsustainable, and is a severe threat to the UK's global competitiveness across all industry sectors. Radical changes are needed to match supply and demand," the report warns.

The plan calls for employers, IT suppliers, universities and the Government to work together in a new public/private sector partnership to improve IT literacy in the UK, to re-invigorate IT training for the workforce, and to transform the profession's "techie" image.

Karen Price, chief executive of the E-skills NTO, said this week she was confident that the plan, which calls for £5m funding a year for three years, will win financial backing from the Government, if employers are prepared to contribute their resources and time.

"I want to get strategic long-term investment from government departments and government agencies. If this is recognised as an employer-backed initiative they will back it."

The plan will be seen by observers as an attempt to re-establish the momentum of last year's ill-fated Alan Stevens report on IT skills. The new plan calls for the creation of IT training centres of excellence, which could be funded through the new Learning and Skills Council; an annual workforce development plan to identify skills needed; and reforms to make IT courses more relevant to employers. There are proposals to encourage more women into IT, a national marketing campaign to improve the image of the profession, and training for the unemployed.

"A new public/private partnership around this strategic plan will raise the level of investment and direct it around a common set of priorities," said Price.

Although the plan has been welcomed by employers, critics warn that it will only succeed if they are prepared to contribute funding, resources and ideas.

David Taylor, president of the IT directors forum, Certus, said, "For the E-skills NTO initiative to succeed, they simply must involve IT directors at a very high level."

But Chris Roberts, director of IT at law firm Simmons and Simmons, whose company is supporting the plan, said that this time around, the profession has a good chance of making a difference because the initiative will have stakeholders involved from the start.

Mailto:[email protected]

Have your say on the strategic plan at www.e-skillsNTO.org.uk

Inducements for high-quality IT recruits

  • National campaign to promote IT as a career

  • Improve industry/education links

  • Centres of excellence for IT training

  • A Web portal to co-ordinate collaboration between employers and universities

  • More investment by employers and government in relevant IT training

  • Annual workforce development plan to identify skills needed

  • Develop core set of IT qualifications and training programmes tailored for employers

  • New qualifications to combine vendor exams and NVQs.

  • Read more on IT jobs and recruitment