Training for IT professionals rather than pupils needed to plug skills gap, say experts

Improving training and qualifications for senior IT professionals is more important than attracting school leavers into IT careers, according to industry experts.

Improving training and qualifications for senior IT professionals is more important than attracting school leavers into IT careers, according to industry experts.

Speaking at a City University London event, Andrew Tuson, course director for the Master of Information Leadership (MIL) course at City, acknowledged the need to attract more school leavers into IT degree courses and careers, but added that the industry would be "dead" if there was too great a focus on school and graduate entry skills gaps.

"Schools and higher education are only part of the picture. There is a skills gap higher up," said Tuson.

He also questioned the value of certifications, such as Prince2, without the ability to critically evaluate IT problems.

Ongoing qualifications and training

Richard Sykes, board member of IT industry trade association Intellect, agreed that ongoing qualifications and training will be crucial to securing future professionalism in the IT industry.

"We need an environment where it is accepted that you regularly reinvent your role to develop a deep professionalism," said Sykes.

He added this would challenge smaller companies. "It is a genuine challenge for smaller enterprise as it is an overhead to train and keep the talent you need," he said.

David Tidey, head of IT at Wandsworth Borough Council, said that IT professionals increasingly need to take more personal responsibility for developing their skills, rather than relying on employers. Speaking on a CIO panel at the skills event, he explained how few of the CVs he receives when recruiting IT staff are suitable for the requirements of the job.

Securing a future IT workforce

Other speakers at the event, however, highlighted the importance of continuing to focus on school leavers and graduates as prospective IT professionals. Bill Mitchell, director of the BCS, believes securing a future IT workforce through schools is the priority.

"School IT is what we should be really worried about," he said.

Mitchell believes computing needs to be given greater recognition in the national curriculum. He said pupils need better IT teaching and quoted 2010 statistics which show only three out of 28,767 teachers awarded qualified teacher status had a degree in computing.

"We need to get people interested in IT when they are at school, get them into university and keeping them interested," he said.

The BCS recently met with universities minister David Willetts to discuss funding for computer science degrees and has an upcoming appointment with education secretary Michael Gove's senior policy advisor about keeping IT on the national curriculum.

"If we don't get this right, IT could disappear from schools forever," said Mitchell.

"Qualifications in schools should be about ensuring a pathway to a profession. We are in a very sorry state at the moment. Employers should be getting involved in contributing to qualification design."

Developing IT skills for the future

Mitchell added that new qualifications need to be forward-looking rather than focusing on the business or technical skills needed today.

"Qualifications are too focused on what employers need now. We need to worry about we what need in 10 years' time," he said.

Nigel Payne, a manager at IT sector skills council e-Skills UK, said the curriculum was failing to keep school children engaged with IT.

As a result, Payne said entry-level apprenticeships were becoming more important for large organisations, such as IBM and Microsoft, to recruit and train young talent. But IT apprenticeships may be more difficult to fund in the future.

"In the IT sector, the rules of apprenticeships are under review. The money per unit has come down," he said.

Sykes concluded that entering the industry no longer presupposes taking an IT degree course. "A high number in the industry have not taken an IT degree and that will continue to be case in the future," he said.

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment