IT has always been a great, vibrant area to work in and continues to be so, despite the difficulties in the market, says Karen Price.
IT is all about developing new ideas, products and concepts and realising them to improve employees' working lives, as well as providing convenience to users when they are out of the office. Technology surrounds us and opens up new opportunities, so it has always puzzled me that some people see IT as a "geeky" environment to work in - a place where creativity is non-existent.
I struggle to see the industry in this light and I am pleased to see that the image problem that has been associated with IT in the past is gradually beginning to evaporate.
Unfortunately, the lack of women in the IT sector continues to be a problem and only about 20% of the IT workforce is female. E-Skills UK has met regularly with employers to address this issue, and hosts the annual Women in IT conference, in conjunction with Intellect, to address the disproportionate number of males to females in the IT industry.
This year's event showed that programmes aimed at enthusing girls in IT have really begun to hit home. A number of participants from Computer Clubs for Girls (an E-Skills UK programme that aims to help more young girls understand the career options that IT can provide them) attended the conference to talk about what they like about technology.
The industry has a number of hurdles that it needs to overcome if it is to attract a more diverse workforce. The current situation, where women are leaving the industry faster than we can recruit them, is making it very difficult to improve the proportion of women.
Although more than 33% of new entrants to the industry are female, just over 20% of the total workforce are female. Employers need to strive to offer employees a more manageable work/life balance and already there are a number of employers that offer flexible working hours and arrangements that allow parents to pursue a fulfilling family and working life.
It is imperative that we continue to improve the pipeline of skilled IT professionals from all backgrounds for the long term, while simultaneously ensuring that we concentrate on business skills. The UK has always had great technological minds and we need to hone and develop our leadership skills in tandem, to strengthen our commercial outlook.
Despite the challenges faced by the IT sector, the industry is making progress in communicating the dynamic and exciting career options on offer. Employers widely encourage gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace. However, the challenge will be to ensure that we can offer employees roles where they can work to live and not live to work.
E-Skills UK applauds Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work in IT 2003 survey, as it will provide a forum to showcase some of the most exciting industry roles available to both newcomers and seasoned IT professionals.
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Karen Price is chief executive of government training body E-Skills UK