Your Shout! On recruitment and agism in the profession

In response to the article "Lack of youngsters could create skills shortage" (Computer Weekly, 5 October)

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On recruitment and agism in the profession

In response to the article "Lack of youngsters could create skills shortage" (Computer Weekly, 5 October)

In his article on skill shortages Bill Goodwin mentioned that the industry is failing to attract enough new entrants.

The article also mentioned that older technicians find it increasingly difficult to remain in the industry as they get older. Although I agree with both of those points, the article did not consider whether there was any relationship between the two.

Of all the professions open to young people, IT seems to be the worst one to choose. After 15 to 20 years in the profession you may be considered too old and be forced out by its institutional agism.

The thought of having to retrain and change direction in middle age will deter many. They also see that they may not last the 15 to 20 years as their jobs may go offshore much sooner than that.

How the profession treats its more senior members and the move to shift more and more jobs offshore is bound to affect the number of new entrants.

Many within the profession wonder why young people are still attracted into IT as we see a bleak future for the industry.

Agism and the rush to move increasing numbers of jobs offshore are bound to affect numbers of new entrants, and if these numbers are falling, the industry only has itself to blame.

I am a rare fifty-something in the IT industry.

Derek Buckley

Phishing tales - don't ignore the tiddlers

In response to the article on the sinister side of spamming (Computer Weekly, 28 September)

I think it is worth noting the more sinister side of phishing.

There are some seemingly tame phishing scams which are highly dangerous. What look like innocent e-mails designed purely to steal information such as your user name and password for subscription services - to your eBay account, for example - are very common.

In many cases these are simply the first part of a major scam. Many people use the same username and password on multiple websites, so it is easy to see how, in the wrong hands, your password could be used repeatedly to gain access to any number of websites, using auto-login programs.

Many people have also been tricked into revealing their instant messenger IDs and passwords in phishing scams. Scammers use these to log into your account on any PC, pretend to be you and trick all of your contacts into giving out their own details.

The best way of guarding against phishing is to take care what you respond to. Users of e-mail should not fill in official looking forms in e-mails, but should instead go to the correct websites and log in properly to their accounts.

Users should read e-mails carefully and consider their validity before responding.

But there are also software products to stop phishing e-mails. Spam filters may pick them up, but phishing scams are run by clever syndicates that go to great lengths to beat the spam filters. Sender authentication can prevent this.

Sender ID is a series of checks on the headers of an e-mail to verify whether the senders really are who they claim to be.

Phishers use a combination of tricks including spoofing (identity theft) to hit their targets, and sender authentication makes it harder for them to break through the system.

Most anti-spam products filter e-mails based on content, but the best way to protect your e-mail is on the address of the sender and recipient.

Spam gets to you only because a spammer has your e-mail address. You can use a combination of challenge/response and "ok-lists" to protect your address. If you also use an ever-changing e-mail address, you will receive less spam.

Steve Masters
MK Secure Solutions

NHS IT staff training costs underestimated

I have been impressed by your responsible coverage of serious problems in IT projects over the past few years and would like to mention contributory factors that do not seem to be stressed enough in the media.

There are many able ITers in the UK but on many projects those in charge do not have sufficient detailed practical experience to know what is quite likely to happen.

Data migration/merging and data (in)accuracy are two areas where serious problems occur. Without practical experience it is impossible for some IT staff to realise why problems arise in these areas and what the ramifications can be.

In the context of replacing several thousand systems with one all-embracing system and the need to train and communicate with many tens of thousands of people, I cannot see how the new NHS IT programme can succeed.

Although we hear such phrases as, "We have learned from previous mistakes", this kind of statement has been made before and there is a good chance we are in for another costly debacle. Once the momentum behind such projects has grown to a certain size they tend to become dangerous monoliths.

The total NHS workforce in England (according to a post on the web from the office of health minister John Reid) is now 1,282,900, of whom 1,082,900 are involved directly in patient care.

If the total cost of the new system is five times the procurement cost (that is £31bn over 10 years), and if we assume that these employees work half of the time (to allow for the effects of part-time working), this works out to £5,725 a year for each employee directly involved in patient care.

Need I say more?

Michael Salt
Director, Technology Performance

Cost of support will add to NHS IT costs

Your front page story said, "Final cost of NHS IT programme could rise to more than £18.6bn".

There is no surprise in your figures, though they may be speculative. NHS trusts are very concerned about where they are supposed to find the money. The £1bn a year includes non-clinical systems which will not be replaced by the national programme for IT.

The number of devices to be supported will be vastly increased, and the reliance on 24x7 support is spiralling where most organisations are set up for office hours only.

There is no way this could be done within existing resources, not least as all the displaced suppliers are learning to add zeros to their bills in competition with the inflated prices for NPfIT.

Politicians seem to be deluding themselves about the costs and external observers are bemused about where the savings will come from to pay for it. The ability to standardise clinical practice and make use of expert systems is constrained by the complexity of the medical process, and this has not been achieved anywhere in the world except in very limited circumstances.

Sidney Forster

Nation is about to be robbed to pay for NHS IT

Having read your article I am now keen to see some debate about the shocking news that implementation of the new NHS IT framework may cost as much as £31bn.

Having spent many years working in IT systems design and implementation, it is my opinion that the nation is about to be very publicly robbed for a solution that, in all likelihood, will not meet the requirements of either health professionals or patients.

There are several key flaws with the existing approach, the most significant being the assumption that outsourcing provides value for money.

During the late 1990s there was a trend toward outsourcing systems development in the corporate IT sector, driven by the promise of a more suitable solution, delivered on time at a reduced cost.

Most outsourced implementations are delivered late, over budget and fail to provide required functionality.

In all but the smallest corporate organisations, IT systems development has been brought back in-house - the only notable exceptions being highly specialised solutions.

Why? Successful in-house solutions are generally developed by small, highly skilled teams, managed by individuals with real experience in the business sector they are developing for. These factors allow for highly flexible development cycles with solutions evolving through continual review with the future user-base.

On the other hand, outsourced solutions are delivered by large teams often overseen by a disproportionate number of managers with little or no experience of the business sector. As a result, they are inflexible and forced to adopt development methodologies that are outdated and ineffective.

The NHS is a massive organisation and, by comparison with most large corporate entities, it has relatively basic requirements - although these will continue to evolve. For a fraction of the cost of this one project we could establish a centralised NHS IT body that will deliver solutions for today and tomorrow.

The question the Department of Health needs to answer is, why has it chosen to outsource and how can it justify the huge waste of public money that will surely follow?

Andy Care

Saving Emis would cut costs and save expertise

The NHS scheme, as being embodied at present, will cost nearly twice as much as necessary for the total system. Unfortunately, there is a greater loss - that of expertise among 65% of the primary care users of the Emis system.

Emis is a primary care system on a Windows platform, written by GPs for GPs, with a 65% penetration countrywide. This is being engineered out by the new systems procurement with what at present is etherware.

Most of the extra cost is in unnecessary retraining, as Emis complies with current standards and could be spine-compliant. It has shown its ability to develop to meet all the requirements as presently envisaged. This really needs to be pointed out to the taxpayers.

Chris Gidden
Practice IT manager

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