Retrain staff to avoid skills crisis, says E-Skills

Re-skilling the existing workforce is crucial if the UK is to avoid an IT recruitment crisis, E-Skills UK warned last week.

Re-skilling the existing workforce is crucial if the UK is to avoid an IT recruitment crisis, E-Skills UK warned last week.

Although potential workers in the "pipeline" of school and university are important, most of the IT staff that the UK economy will be relying on in 2020 are already working now, said Karen Price, chief executive at the IT sector skills council.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Price said the importance of constantly improving the skills of the current workforce was paramount if the UK was to meet the challenges of the coming years and remain competitive in the face of stiff competition from overseas.

"How we re-skill the existing workforce is a fascinating question," she said. "By 2020, the people who are in the workforce now will make up 70% of the working population.

"The ageing population in Britain means we are running out of young people, so an emphasis on the 70% that are already working is really important."

The Leitch Review, published last year, set out ambitious goals for skills levels in the UK in 2020. It recommended that "economically valuable skills" be delivered through a more demand-led approach, with the employer's voice and engagement strengthened.

It also set out requirements for employers to increase investment in higher-level training. One target was for 40% of adults to be skilled to graduate level and above by 2020.

Price said investment in IT training was already good, with the challenges being to refocus and increase training and achievement in "softer", non-technical skills.

"As a sector, we are always in the top three in terms of spend per employee on training," she said. "The difficulty we have is the realisation that there is a complete shift to be made in the skills we have now and the skills we need.

"Offshoring is highlighting the need for management skills, because it requires the ability to manage remotely and on global terms."

Changes are also occurring in the way that young IT professionals are trained. The traditional bottom rungs of the skills ladder are disappearing, making it more difficult for new entrants to the industry.

"Many of the traditional entry-level jobs are being outsourced or offshored. So there is a need for employers to collaborate more, including inter-company placements for trainees," said Price.

One idea that E-Skills UK hopes will help fend off a skills crisis is Procom, its "light-touch" common framework to help articulate what skills an employee has.

Price said, "Procom will bring about a common language consistency to help us understand what people can actually do.

"It won't be rigid like the accountancy or engineering frameworks, because this is a hugely fast moving sector. But it will help employers better understand an individual's competence, and it will provide a framework for them to work from in terms of learning opportunities and skills programmes.

"Everyone needs to realise that the need for training and development is going to be top of people's agenda."

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