IT professionals need a different career model based on more structured training and career development, in response to the threats and opportunities posed by offshore outsourcing, a report has urged.
The call, made in a report by the British Computer Society published earlier this week, has been welcomed by employer and IT user groups.
The society said the growth of offshore outsourcing should be viewed as a challenge and an opportunity rather than solely a threat to the UK's IT profession.
Fewer than 4% of the UK's current IT workforce are unemployed but Evalueserve, a market research firm, has estimated that 102,000 IT and software jobs will move offshore by 2010, which is equivalent to 12% of the current IT workforce.
"Today IT professionals face the possibility that many of their jobs will be transferred overseas," said the BCS report. "We propose a new career model for a new era in which IT professionals would evolve beyond a purely technical environment. The ultimate aim is to create an environment in which longevity is valued and IT know-how is transferred to the business arena."
According to the BCS, opportunities for UK IT professionals include working overseas; working more closely with the business, rather than purely in a technical role; and developing commercial skills to manage offshore suppliers.
To reap the rewards of a global marketplace for IT services, UK employers need to provide training that equips IT staff with business skills to complement their technical skills. IT staff should be encouraged to gain accreditation in international standards, such as the Capability Maturity Model for software development and service delivery, the BCS said.
Terry Watts, chief operating officer of E-Skills UK, the public-private training partnership charged with improving IT skills, welcomed the BCS' recommendations.
"The report is absolutely right about outsourcing and offshore outsourcing beginning to come of age," he said. "The huge challenge facing us is that IT development jobs are being outsourced [in and outside the UK] and we face a challenge in developing higher skills. This will require a more methodical approach to training."
The IT industry has so far failed to agree a standard set of professional qualifications, similar to those used in the accountancy and legal professions.
However, E-Skills UK is working on defining key skills - including in project management, business analysis or technical architectures - and building a set of appropriate qualifications that can be recognised nationwide.
Offshoring: A challenge or opportunity for British IT professionals is published by the BCS
UK IT: strengths and weaknesses
- Software innovation and pioneering hardware developments
- Skills in the latest technologies
- Experience in managing large, complex programmes
- Good problem-solving and analytical skills
- British IT professionals are expensive compared to offshore workers
- Many UK ITprofessionals lack formal accreditation and training
- Employers do not place a high value on experience in IT and older workers face limited employment opportunities
- Britain has a low regard for technical skills
- General lack of commercial approach within IT departments.
Source: BCS report