Let's get our act together before extolling the virtues of a career in IT

Over the past 12 months a lot of “experts” have bemoaned the lack of computer science graduates and predicted doom and gloom for the IT industry in the UK because of it.

Over the past 12 months a lot of "experts" have bemoaned the lack of computer science graduates and predicted doom and gloom for the IT industry in the UK because of it. But such "spokesmen" for the industry really need to get their own act together before any action is even contemplated.

Last year in this column I highlighted how we must encourage the young to consider careers in computers. That is not the same as encouraging them to do computer science degrees.

IT people can and do come from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of degrees. You do not as a rule need a computer science degree to become a business analyst, a programmer or many of the multitude of jobs currently on offer.

Be sure of end result

Before you start any project, it is vital to know in a reasonable degree of detail what you want to achieve. We also know that the sponsor of a project or programme has to be sure of what the end result will do to their business before funding commences.

Yet we have a number of industry figures enticing the young to consider an IT career without knowing what we want them to do, what roles will be on offer or what skills they need to obtain prior to application. This failure to define what is really needed is what is frustrating.

We need to do some planning so that we can articulate to educational institutes, scholars and businesses the sort of skills that they need to be teaching, learning and developing.

The industry, therefore, needs an initiative that will result in some sort of scenario planning to produce a few descriptions of what the business world could look like five, 10 and 15 years on.

These scenarios will then enable high level skills and resource planning against which curricula, career planning and internal company training can be mapped. This will need a group of people who are committed, enthusiastic, influential and pan-industry.

Looking five years ahead

One example of this change in need can be evidenced by the huge amount of IT work that has been outsourced and offshored. Do senior IT management know with any certainty the type of skills and experience that they will need in the UK in three to five years?

To consider a career in IT the new graduates will need some convincing that they are entering a field that will give them long-term career prospects. Further, in the wider business context of resource planning most business people (as opposed to dedicated IT staff) now also need technical expertise to be able to perform their jobs well.

This planning will also enable us to articulate the links between certain A-level and degree subjects, so that careers advice can give a wider range of choices. For instance, somebody taking business studies will know the applicability of this to both a career in IT and a career in one of the other disciplines within companies of varying sizes.

Margaret Smith advises businesses and government on IT and skills issues and was formerly chief executive of CIO Connect

Last year's column

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