Members of the London Internet Exchange (Linx) are meeting with academics this week to thrash out plans in what they claim is "the absence of any practical public policy on solving the UK's critical skills shortage". Linx says the shortfall of networking professionals will reach 80,000 - plus by 2002, and points out that last year only 2,000 software engineers graduated in the UK.
The organisation warns that the crisis has already cost Europe $106bn (£72bn) in lost gross domestic product since 1998, and that the "financial haemorrhage is becoming ever more critical".
The initiative is designed to encourage more graduates to take up careers in IT, introduce an Internet skills module into engineering syllabuses, co-ordinate work experience placements for graduates with ISPs, and provide a Linx accreditation qualification.
Raza Rizvi, technical support manager with Rednet, and chair of the Linx working group said, "This is not some pie in the sky initiative. We have a mandate from our members so we can increase the quality of staff that approach us for positions. We have surveyed the Linx membership to find out which skills are in short supply. Routing and switching skills - primarily Cisco - came out top, followed by understanding of the NT and Solaris operating systems."
Rizvi said that universities will receive the framework for free and that it should be available by the summer, in time for delivery in October.
John Platt, IT infrastructure director for Lloyds TSB Group, welcomed the initiative. "With the explosion in e-commerce, there is a shortage of people who know how to connect boxes and wires together, and how to implement security."
Platt said that shortages are encouraging poaching, which can force rates up by 50% to 100%. "Somebody gets on the phone and says 'we'll give you whatever you're getting plus 50%.' We work on increasing company loyalty by offering further training and development."
Tim Conway, director of industrial affairs at the CSSA, said the industry needed to find ways of providing trainees with more work experience. "We want our people ready baked. We don't want graduates. We want graduates with experience," he said. "As an industry we have not got ourselves together in terms of placement and sandwich courses."