Employers have begun to hire significantly more graduates to fill their IT and e-commerce vacancies in what amounts to a change in direction for many IT departments.
During 1999, the number of graduates entering the IT profession rose by an estimated 50% to around 5,000 graduates, the largest increase in graduate recruitment for a decade.
Over the next few years industry observers expect the number of graduates entering the profession to grow just as rapidly, as competition for e-commerce and Internet skills intensifies.
The growing importance of graduates for IT employers represents a marked shift in policy for companies that until now, have preferred to recruit experienced staff, rather than inexperienced graduates with the heavy training investment that demands.
The trend has been highlighted in research by the Alliance for Information Systems Skills, an umbrella group of employers and training organisations, which has been made available exclusively to Computer Weekly.
Based on a survey of 200 graduate recruiting companies, the research reveals that last year the number of graduates recruited grew to around a third of all IT practitioners taken on.
The sharp upturn is partly a result of employers seeking alternative sources of labour as IT vacancies become harder to fill. But it also reflects a growing awareness among employers of the need to train IT staff.
Last year, a Government working party, chaired by EDS director Alan Stevens, was instrumental in highlighting the crucial importance of training graduates, if Britain is to beat its IT skills crisis.
The report has encouraged employers to investigate schemes like the graduate apprentice programme, which is helping companies like EDS turn raw graduates into experienced employees.
"People have begun to take their strategy for recruiting people for IT work more seriously. The Stevens strategy group report has got people thinking," said Matthew Dixon, director of research and strategy at the IT National Training Organis-ation.
And yet, there is still a long way to go before companies are employing graduates at the rate they did in the 1980's and early 1990's, says Philip Virgo, strategic advisor to the Institute for the Management of Information Systems.
Graduate recruitment has nose-dived from an all-time high in the late 1980s. The growth of outsourcing in the 1990s has ensured that, until now, demand has shown few signs of recovering.
Even today, the proportion of graduates entering the IT profession is still way below the proportion experts believe is necessary to keep pace with demand. As a result, says Virgo, the trend to recruit more graduates can only continue.
"This year should see a further sharp increase in the number of graduates going into IT. But a lot will be going directly into e-commerce posts rather than traditional IT posts. "E-procurement will be the biggest area along with network skills and the skills needed for marketing e-commerce," Virgo says.