National IT skills strategy a 'missed opportunity'

Bill Goodwin

A government-backed plan to create a national strategy for IT skills for the UK has been described as a "missed...

Bill Goodwin

A government-backed plan to create a national strategy for IT skills for the UK has been described as a "missed opportunity" only 12 months after work began.

The plan, the fruit of a year's work by employers, educational and professional bodies, is the first concerted effort to address the high-tech skills shortage.

Published last year, the plan laid down 16 work programmes, including campaigns to challenge IT's poor image and to attract more women into the profession.

It emerged this week that all but a "handful" of the projects are running behind schedule and most are unlikely to meet the deadlines set out in the plan.

Work on at least two projects has yet to start, a year after the plan was announced by the Government-backed skills strategy group.

"It has been a missed opportunity," said Karen Price chief executive of the E-skills National Training Organisation (NTO), which is taking a lead role in the programme. "We should have hit the ground running last November. We had interest. We had employee engagement."

The taskforce, chaired by EDS director Alan Stevens, produced the plan to ensure that UK businesses remain competitive. Market analyst group IDC predicts that the UK will be short of 300,000 IT professionals by 2003.

Critics say that although there is no one reason why the programme has failed to meet its objects, poor co-ordination and prioritisation and over-ambitious targets, were significant factors.

The NTOs, which were charged with implementing key parts of the report, have been sidetracked by mergers and, in the case of NTO Tele. com, an investigation into £10m in missing funding.

Computing Services & Software Association policy director Tim Conway said, "I think the NTOs were the wrong bodies to lead it. They were being forced to merge and rationalise and that created a conflict of interest. I think they were given an impossible task."

Chris Yapp, ICL fellow for lifelong learning, said the Stevens report would eventually make a difference, but its one-year deadline was too ambitious.

"If those 16 targets could have been done in five years that would be more realistic. Reforming something that has been a systemic problem for the industry for 20 years can't be done in a year," he said.

The Government's Information Age Partnership is understood to be reviewing the report's recommendations. It is expected to devise a revised set of objectives.

"We need to go back and reinvigorate everyone's interest and engagement," said Price.

Stevens could not be contacted for comment.

What went wrong with the Stevens report?

  • 16 projects were initiated to improve the supply of skilled IT professionals. Only a handful have met their deadlines

  • Critics blame over-ambitious targets, lack of prioritisation and problems at the National Training Organisations

  • There are calls to "reinvigorate" the plan with a new call to action to employers and government.

  • Read more on IT jobs and recruitment