RAF and British Council map staff IT skills to reinforce recruitment and retention

The Royal Air Force is borrowing techniques developed for civilian businesses to improve the way it trains, manages and deploys...

The Royal Air Force is borrowing techniques developed for civilian businesses to improve the way it trains, manages and deploys computer specialists.

The organisation is one of the early adopters of the Skills Framework for the Information Age, a tool created to provide organisations with a map of the IT skills and competencies of their staff.

The RAF plans to use the framework to help it to create a new Command Control Communication Information (CIS) trade that will bring RAF staff with IT and radio frequency skills together for the first time.

"The problem we have is that there is no CIS trade. There is no group of people responsible for IT. We have cooks and air traffic control experts dabbling in technology," said wing commander Colin Winwood, who is overseeing the project.

The RAF plans to use the framework to gain an accurate picture of the IT skills of its personnel, pinpoint staff with the right skills for particular projects and identify any gaps in training.

"It will produce a higher level quality of support. It will help us define career structures more clearly. It will help us identify career and development needs, and will help staff identify what they want to do in the future," said Winwood.

The reorganisation should allow the RAF to respond more rapidly to IT needs in the field. If key staff are absent or ill, the framework will help commanders identify personnel with similar skills who can stand in.

For example, if an expert in Oracle databases fell sick, said Winwood, officers could use the framework to find an expert in SQL databases to cover the work.

Once deployed, the framework will allow the RAF to map the IT skills of its staff with recognised skills in the private sector, providing them with qualifications they can use in later civilian life - a powerful recruitment incentive.

The RAF has developed its own version of the framework, which includes extra detail on skills specific to the RAF. Winwood said he hoped that the RAF's version would be taken up as a new industry standard.

The RAF will start recruiting for staff under the new CIS trade from April 2005.

The British Council is also using the framework to create new career paths and job roles for 450 IT staff in offices across 110 countries.

The framework has allowed the council, which champions UK culture overseas, to recognise the technical competencies of its employees.

Data standards manager Barbara Robinson said the framework would allow the council to plan career development and identify gaps in training, which should encourage staff retention.

"One colleague has been in our organisation for 35 years," she said. "He has always had an IT role, beginning with mainframes in the 1970s. He has come up the organisation with a huge range of experience, but had no recognition. The skills framework gave him that recognition."

The council introduced the framework following an outsourcing deal with Logica, which took over the management of the organisation's London IT infrastructure in January.

"We had a very tight deadline and pretty well a blank sheet of paper to write the new job description," said Robinson. "Given the tight deadline, we took what we wanted. We drew mercilessly on the fact that the framework is well established in the academic, public and private sector, and our colleagues were happy to accept that without much question."

Under the new framework, rather than being responsible for maintaining infrastructure, staff have taken on broader roles. Telecoms managers, for example have become project managers, and applications development managers become strategy managers.

"It produces a higher-level quality of support. It helps us define career structures, identify needs and help staff decide what they want to do," said Christine Latimer, organisational development manager.

In a nutshell

The Skills Framework for the Information Age was developed by businesses and universities to provide a common training and career structure for the IT profession.

The framework helps organisations identify the core competencies needed for each role in the IT department, and helps them to assess the skill levels of its staff in each competence.

In effect, it provides companies with a snapshot of the skills they have in their IT departments, helping them to identify gaps in training, and to match the skills of individuals more closely to skills needs of each IT project.

"You have a much better chance of making sure you have the right skills available at the right time if you know what the skills of your staff are," said Ron McLaren, operations manager at the SFIA Foundation.

According to McLaren, more than 40 organisations have rolled out the framework across their organisations since its launch last year, 100 are using it for specific applications, and a further 100 plan to introduce it over the next 12 months.


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