The government has announced its support for an employer-backed action plan to ensure that businesses have access to the IT staff they need over the next 10 years.
The plan, dubbed the E-Skills Sector Skills Agreement, aims to make business and project management skills a central part of IT training and education in the UK.
By working in collaboration with government, universities, colleges and training companies, employers will have an unprecedented opportunity to influence the IT training agenda in the UK, said Ruth Kelly, secretary of state for education and skills.
"For too long, employers have complained that the skills they need in their workforce are not being provided by the education and training system. This is a huge opportunity for businesses to influence and work in partnership with education to create a better skilled workforce," she said.
The Sector Skills Agreement, the first serious attempt to address underlying weaknesses in the provision of skills that have dogged the IT profession in the UK, has won backing from leading IT users, including Ford, British Airways, Vodafone and John Lewis. Suppliers such as EDS and IBM, universities and IT specialists are also supporting the initiative.
The plan recognises that employers will increasingly demand IT professionals with good business, interpersonal and project management skills, in addition to technical skills, as more basic IT roles are outsourced or transferred offshore.
The government will provide funding to develop a new IT diploma and IT degrees that combine technical training with business and communications skills.
In addition, a network of IT academies will be created to provide accelerated training for practicing IT professionals. They will focus on the business and technical skills that will be needed by employers in the future.
At the same time, universities will incorporate IT modules in non-IT degrees, in a tacit recognition that IT will underpin every profession. Training will also be offered to business managers to help them understand the potential that IT offers their businesses.
The government has also backed plans to encourage more youngsters to take up careers in IT by providing up-to-date careers materials to schools and encouraging more women to consider the profession.
The Computer Clubs for Girls scheme, which aims to encourage young women to consider IT as a career, will also be expanded nationwide from its current membership of 3,000. It aims to reach 75,000 schoolgirls by March 2008.
A survey of 13,000 employers released with the government’s skills proposals last week revealed that 68% of organisations consider skills development to be a high priority, but 33% do not provide formal training.
The research found that just a 1.25% increase in the volume of training carried out in the UK could lead to an extra 350,000 skilled workers and add an extra £10bn to the UK’s GDP.
Report says UK must boost key skills
The UK needs to boost its skills in entrepreneurship, innovation and technology if it is to become a value-added, high-productivity economy, a report from the Learning and Skills Council concluded.
UK firms will need to focus on knowledge-based activities if they are to compete against Chinese and Indian competitors, which are increasingly producing products and services at a lower price.
The UK’s competitiveness is improving, and the productivity gap between the UK and its competitors is narrowing. But output per hour is still less than France and Germany, the report said. The UK will need to invest in better management skills, increase investment in IT, and deploy its labour force more effectively if it is to catch up.
Workers with information skills and skills in dealing with customers will become increasingly important, so that firms can deliver goods and services tailored to the needs of their customers more effectively, and generate new business, the report said.