Short-term solutions cannot plug skills gap



Despite all the good intentions of the Stevens report into the IT skills crisis, we are making very slow progress. Karen Price, head of the E-skills...



Despite all the good intentions of the Stevens report into the IT skills crisis, we are making very slow progress. Karen Price, head of the E-skills National Training Organisation, said this week that the past 12 months have been a missed opportunity to address the skills crisis.

Price blamed "short-termism" in IT departments. But, when you are faced with hyperventilating e-commerce managers demanding 90-day development cycles, short-term thinking will always dominate.

It is up to the Government to address the wider issues - although here it is lack of short-term solutions that is the problem.

There are some excellent initiatives in schools - let's hope they filter through into making the next generation of high-level programmers, project managers and system architects. But, whatever happens, they will not plug the skills gap for Java, security and network integration.

Skills initiatives for the unemployed and homeless are also good, but dragging someone off the streets to teach them how to navigate a file tree is a long way from providing industry with a fledgling Java genius.

Education and social inclusion initiatives would be great if they went alongside significant action to solve the high-end skills shortage. But little is being done.

There are two concrete things the Government could do. It could provide big subsidies for MSc courses. And it could launch a compulsory training levy on business to fund a massive skills program. The mandarins of "light touch regulation" in the DTI will laugh that suggestion out of court.

But a training levy works in the construction industry - which is also dominated by short-term projects, but works on much lower margins than many sectors. Even a voluntary levy - with carrot and stick incentives to participate - would be better than the "hope-for-the-best" strategy.

As for Patricia Hewitt's call for Indian programmers to plug the gap - that is welcome. But it will only plug a gap - not solve a strategic problem for UK business.

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