IT employers are pressing politicians to make IT skills an election issue, as the UK faces a growing shortage of workers with e-commerce skills.
Employers are struggling to find workers with the skills to develop large e-business projects, despite a significant slow-down in the overall demand for IT skills.
The skills gap has already encouraged some employers to relocate overseas and could jeopardise the UK's position as a centre for e-commerce, the Institute for the Management of Information Systems (IMIS) said this week.
Chancellor Gordon Brown should use his pre-election budget to give tax relief to employers and staff for IT training, the institute said in its skills trends report, launched at a Parliamentary IT Committee meeting on Monday.
The proposals are designed to overcome the traditional reluctance of employers to invest in training their staff as IT skills demands change.
"We are now beginning to see quite a number of software and services companies leaving the UK because of skills shortages. It is the haemorrhaging of employment that goes with those leading-edge skills that makes it an election issue," said Philip Virgo, author of the report.
The calls for action were echoed by the Computing Services & Software Association (CSSA), which said it will press the Government for incentives to encourage employers and staff to train in IT.
"There needs to be learning tax breaks so that an individual and employers can benefit. It could change the culture so that people realise they should be training each year as an integral part of their working life," said Tim Conway, the CSSA's policydirector.
Employers should play their part by offering high-quality IT apprenticeship programmes, the IMISreport said. In return, they should protect their investments by asking staff to sign training contracts, or introduce transfer fees for IT professionals, the report said.
It also urges IT managers to form partnerships with colleges, universities and training companies to ensure there are enough recruits with e-commerce skills.
IMIS said it wants the Government to kick-start an IT jobs market recovery by awarding preferential pricing to firms willing to sign three to five-year contracts to provide broadband services.
"The skills that will be in severe shortage when demand recovers are already apparent. The means of ensuring an adequate supply of those skills - quality even more than quantity - are not," the report said.
Professionals from education, unions and IT suppliers lent their support to the issues raised by the IMIS report at the Parliamentary IT Committee meeting.
Gillian Lovegrove, president of the Conference of Professors and Heads of Computing, said, "We cannot recruit enough lecturers and we cannot hold on to the ones we have." In the future, universities could subsidise the cost of IT lecturers by offering services to keep companies' staff updated with the latest IT skills, Lovegrove added.
Responding to the IMIS report, e-minister Patricia Hewitt said the Government would support workers who want to move from declining sectors of the economy into IT. The work permit has been overhauled to help close the skills gap and the Government is encouraging more women to move into IT.
"I am determined that we continue to tackle the cultural barriers that discourage girls and women from seeing IT as a career. I am also encouraged by the response to Learndirect, our online training organisation," she said.
UK firms hit by growing e-skills problem
Action plan for employers
Action plan for Government