Conservative Conference: Shortage of IT graduates worrying, says Ericsson CTO

The shortage of IT graduates is becoming an "alarming" problem for some employers and needs action by government, members of the Conservative Technology Forum said at a Conservative conference fringe meeting yesterday.

The shortage of IT graduates is becoming an "alarming" problem for some employers and needs action by government, members of the Conservative Technology Forum said at a Conservative conference fringe meeting yesterday.

Ericsson's chief technology officer in the UK, John Cunliffe, said about 50% of new graduates in the company's British workforce now need work permits. He said, "We are worried they will not stay very long - two to three years - before moving on, and sometimes it is difficult for them to get visas."

He said the company did not take on any graduates after the dot.com bubble burst in 2000, but started recruiting again about three years ago. He said, "We have found it quite difficult. It is a pity, because we have always prided ourselves on the people we have recruited in the past.

"Demand for ICT skills has risen fairly steeply, but since the year 2000 there has been a real dive in the number of people taking ICT courses. This might be partly because of the association with failed projects, and it is also because it is seen as a 'boring' subject. It is a real shame."

He said the telecoms company is increasingly looking for managers as lower level work is outsourced to countries with cheaper labour.

It has led to further problems, as managers, who used to be recruited as lower-level staff climbed the ladder, are now harder to come by.

He said, "There is a lot of ICT work being offshored to low-cost countries. This changes the nature of the people we employ. We need managers and supervisors, who traditionally came up through the ranks. It makes you wonder where the CIOs of the future are going to come from? We need the leaders.

"It is not a terrible thing, but we need to recognise it is happening and encourage young people to take up the career."

Malcolm Harbour, West Midlands MEP, said, "There are truly alarming figures about the number of people applying to do IT.

"The message coming clearly through is that we do not just need a generation who know how to use computers, but we need far more people who understand the technology behind them. It is a creative business, building these new systems. We have to transmit the whole creative force behind technology and engage young people in it."

Susan Pointer, director of public policy and government relations for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Google, said the company works hard to attract the best staff, and focuses on the creative side of IT work to do so.

She said, "We do not look at the quality of people out there, but ask how we can position ourselves to attract the best people. This can be as simple as creating similar working environments to the ones they flourished in at university."

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