IT industry needs to escape from nerdy image

The image of the IT professional as a “nerd” or a “geek” has to change dramatically if the industry is to...

The image of the IT professional as a “nerd” or a “geek” has to change dramatically if the industry is to attract the extra one million people needed in the next five years.

e-skills NTO, the national training organisation for IT skills, in partnership with the government and IT employers, launched a campaign to address the negative image of IT last week.

Major players such as IBM, Microsoft, EDS and Intel have signed the e-skills employer’s charter, committing them to work with the organisation to take action in fighting the growing shortage of IT professionals.

Anne Cantelo, project manager at e-skills, commented: “People who work in IT are often seen as computer nerds who have no other interests and no interpersonal skills.”

She argued there were “a number of reasons why this image has been formed and e-skills employers now recognise they have to take action to change it if they are going to be able to recruit the type of people they need”.

Research undertaken by e-skills showed the skills shortage could be eased by addressing the poor image of IT, broadening recruitment into the industry and increasing the provision of work experience.

It revealed jobs in IT were not viewed as exciting or dynamic and the image of IT was especially poor among young people and women, who saw it as highly technical and complicated, putting them off pursuing careers in the industry.

In addition, IT was viewed as an exclusively male-dominated environment, offering poorer opportunities and rewards for women. Only five per cent of young women would consider entering the IT industry, making it one of the least likely industries to be considered as a career by women, whereas 26 per cent considered medicine and 14 per cent law.

The e-skills report attributed the low rate of take-up to a lack of industry knowledge (40 per cent), a lack of interest (25 per cent) and the perception that the jobs were boring (25 per cent).

“There is no bigger challenge in preparing Britain for the information age than solving the IT skills crisis,” commented Patricia Hewitt, minister for small business and e-commerce.

“The government cannot solve it alone. We need action from both the government and businesses working in collaboration, as the results of the research are quite disturbing. The e-skill employer’s charter is a tangible demonstration of the determination of businesses to improve the supply of IT skills.”

The broadening recruitment project will aim to increase employment of people from non-traditional groups into professional IT roles, which are currently male dominated (78 per cent), filled mostly by graduates, heavily biased towards the south east and held by people predominantly under 35 years of age.

The research has identified potential recruitment pools from school leavers, graduates — only half of IT graduates enter IT-related careers — failing industries, career changers, over 35s, women and the unemployed.

The report also indicated that work placements could form a vital part of addressing the skills shortage and the campaign is actively encouraging employers to extend work placement schemes and to work closely with educational establishments in doing so.

“Experience of the industry is a key driver of opinion and those with little or no knowledge are the most likely to perceive IT work as boring and too technical,” said Alan Stevens, managing director, government accounts EDS.

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