e-Skills makes headway in transforming IT image

Although the IT industry is experiencing a downturn, the skills shortage faced by companies is still very prevalent.

Although the IT industry is experiencing a downturn, the skills shortage faced by companies is still very prevalent.

e-Skills NTO, formally recognised by the government as 'The National Training Organisation for the Information Age', is specifically looking at ways to address the shortages. Following its 'Women in IT' conference last year, the organisation has reported back on initiatives taken to tackle the predicament.

"There are 9,000 UK companies experiencing difficulties in recruiting IT staff, and they are not only in the IT sector, but in other sectors too," says Anne Cantelo, project director at e-Skills NTO.

The launch of IT Compass, a Web site aimed at providing information and advice to people seeking a career in IT, is one of the initiatives taken by e-Skills NTO.

Information on how to move into IT, where the opportunities are and what employers expect from applicants can be accessed on the site, which consists of three main sections: 'Women in IT', 'Work Experience' and 'IT for non-IT graduates'.

A widening gap
A year ago, the ratio of women to men in the IT profession was 30:70, now it is 20:80. "The number of women entering IT is still dropping and some estimates even have that number down to 13 per cent," says Cantelo.

Of the women in IT, there are very few in senior positions, but many of them are involved in HR or marketing, she adds, underlining that it is still a critical component of the organisation's strategy to address the gender balance.

In a bid to recruit more graduates into IT, e-Skills NTO is working with careers advisors at the relevant institutions to inform students of the exciting opportunities in IT and the different roles that are available.

"By holding workshops or seminars we can reach 100 people, but by working with careers advisors at universities, we can reach thousands," says Cantelo.

Preying on young minds
A 'Computer Clubs' project in schools has also been launched in the South East, which is predominantly where the shortages are, aimed initially at girls aged between 11 and 13. It is hoped that at this age, the stereotypical image of a nerdy geek has not been ingrained and the clubs will provide a fun way for the girls to learn professional software applications.

To change the negative stereotyping of the industry, e-Skills NTO has gone even further by talking to executives at the BBC and ITV about how IT professionals are cast in TV dramas and has obtained undertakings that they will be looking to address this poor image.

"Instead of casting a stereotypical nerd as an IT professional in its upcoming drama Swoops, which is based around MI5, the BBC is now going to cast a glamorous young woman," reveals Cantelo.

But she warns: "The skills shortage is not something that can be measured overnight."

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