The Scale 21 (Skills Capabilities Aptitudes in Learning Environments of the 21st Century) programme is the brainchild of the Real Time Club Foresight Associate Programme, which was set up to investigate issues and implement the recommendations of the DTI Office of Science and Technology's Information, Communications and Media Foresight Panel.
Scale 21 aims to obtain verifiable facts on the long-term underlying skills people need to succeed in an environment of accelerating change.
"One of the great things about the response we have had is that everyone knows we have to take action. It is not too melodramatic to state that the future of the UK IT industry is at stake," says Charles Ross, chairman of the Scale 21 programme. "Everyone we have asked has agreed to contribute."
The list of participants includes Computer Weekly, the British Computer Society, the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE), the Institution of Analysts and Programmers (IAP), the Institute for the Management of Information Systems (Imis), the Department of Trade & Industry, the Computer Services and Software Association, IT Training, Calibrand, Talent Foundation, Oxford University, London Business School, Reed-In-Partnership, and the National Computing Centre.
The programme has four working parties. In conjunction with the Department for Education and Skills and the E-Skills National Training Organisation (NTO), working group one will produce an inventory of all the IT courses, qualifications, examining bodies and initiatives currently available.
During the autumn the second working group will invite 150,000 IT professionals - members of the BCS, IEE, Imis , IAP and readers of Computer Weekly - to participate in a pathfinder study to identify the underlying skills that have made them successful members of the IT profession.
The third working group will bring together a number of the industry's successful entrepreneurs to identify the barriers and impediments they have encountered and identify solutions.
The fourth working party will be ensuring that the study gets maximum publicity in the media.
The first sets of tests will take place from the end of October and will include various generic aptitude tests.
"We don't simply want to confirm whether someone is an existing certified professional in a commercial product (although that is important information). We want to look at the underlying generic aptitudes," says Denis Saunders, chairman of working group two and managing director of Calibrand, which is supplying the software for the study.
An example of this would be spatial awareness or pattern recognition, which is useful in Web site or games design and some of the questions will be along these lines.
For the project to be a success it is essential that as many people as possible from the targeted groups participate in the tests. The numbers are very significant, if 5% of the 150,000 people invited to participate in Scale 21 reply, that would represent a 7,500 individual response survey - which is significantly bigger than any previous survey of the industry.
From the end of the month people will be able to take the tests online at www.scale21.org.
The task will involve spending a maximum of one hour filling in optional personal characteristic details and taking different types of test.
The online questionnaire features a combination of knowledge-based tests; personality profiling; reasoning profiles, conceptual, verbal and numeric tests; and emotional intelligence tests.
All the tests are simple and easy to complete and take about 10 to 15 minutes each.
"Whatever we find will be interesting," said Saunders. "We have a real chance to promote a huge change for the better, so I appeal to everyone who can to get involved by taking the tests."
An important subsidiary objective is to assist the E-Skills NTO in its efforts to communicate with a wider spectrum of computer users and increase its membership and contributors.
Karen Price, chief executive of the E-Skills NTO, says, "The Scale 21 agenda impacts across most of our objectives, and we are happy to give it our full support."
The results of Scale 21 will be revealed at a conference on Monday 11 February 2002 in the Faraday theatre of the Royal Institution. The conference is titled "Building Britain's Brainpower" and the objective is to bring together some 450 IT leaders and entrepreneurs to review the pathfinder work and debate recommendations to take the project forward. If successful, the study is likely to have wider implications for both industry and the education system.
Computer Weekly will be publishing more about the tests at the end of October.