IT professionals fear for the UK’s digital future

IT professionals lament the exhaustive drive to outsource as well as inadequate IT training.

IT professionals lament the exhaustive drive to outsource as well as inadequate IT training, which are contributing to the huge expected shortage of UK-based IT skills that is predicted as demand for digital expertise continues to accelerate, says a survey of Computer Weekly readers.

Despite there currently being about 40,000 unemployed IT professionals and many more doing jobs not related their qualifications, the UK is expected to have a shortage of 100,000 people to fill IT jobs in the next few years. In Europe, including the UK, the skills shortage is expected to reach 700,000.

A Computer Weekly survey has revealed how IT professionals feel about the perceived IT skills shortage expected in the UK.

The findings reveal that outsourcing and a shortage of opportunities for UK-based IT professionals needs to be addressed if the UK is to retain home-grown talent. Over 130 people filled in the online questionnaire.

The survey revealed that 78% of respondents believe that outsourcing has contributed to a shortage of UK IT professionals.

Many blamed the use of intra-company transfers (ICTs), where lower-cost labour is brought to the UK through a mechanism that allows multinationals with a UK base, such as big Indian IT suppliers, to bring offshore staff to this country at a fraction of the cost of UK workers.

For example, one respondent said the government should "stop importing inexperienced graduate trainees from India under the ICT scam and start giving UK graduates and experienced staff a chance instead." This view was shared by a large proportion of respondents.

Jobs that are sent offshore first are often more junior roles in which IT professionals would begin their careers. By taking away this rung on the ladder IT is less secure for university students as a career choice.

Another respondent said companies have been spoiled by their recent hiring experiences and expect everyone to walk in the door with exactly the skills they need: “That's unrealistic. If there's a gap in training, they should hire the best people available and train them.”

The survey respondent added that companies should hire the best people and train them to do the job, rather than hiring a person just because they can do the job required at the lowest price.

“It's always in the best interest of companies - not really, but this is what they think - to have more choice at the same price, so they'll always argue that it's not offshoring, but training that's the problem. But they're wrong about this. In fact, it's best for the industry to attract the best people they can - and turning it into a lousy, low-wage profession is not going to accomplish that,” he said.

Another survey respondent said the UK must invest in technology and innovation: “We need bright young students to enter the field of technology in the knowledge that is an exciting, dynamic, and valued part of Britain’s future. Innovation in technology has the power to change all aspects of our lives, from our working environment to our leisure time, to our social interaction, on a global basis.”

The respondent said that, like in in Silicon Valley, IT should be perceived as an attractive and cool industry to be in, “where smart people attract funding and investment and turn ideas in to reality."

“Ensuring the UK is an innovation leader needs a large investment in the education system, ongoing support for R&D and creativity, and the right backing to allow innovative ideas to become business reality," he said.

Almost half (47%) of respondents believe that apprentice schemes are the answer to the skills gap.

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