OVUM Comment: IT skills - getting it right
The Financial Times' UK and German editions carried a couple of stories tackling the issue of the shortage of IT-skills and the struggle to get more young people interested and involved in technology and science careers.

OVUM. Cornelia Wels-Maug, Samad Masood

The Financial Times Germany pointed out that companies in the information, communication and telecommunication (ICT) field are suffering under the lack of skilled personnel, particularly in the areas of software development, IT project management and consulting where there are currently about 40,000 open jobs and not sufficient qualified applicants. To add to this, it calls attention to the fact that the number of first-year computer science students in Germany has steadily declined from 38,000 in 2000 to 28,000 in 2007.

The most poignant article regarding the UK was about the 'Revitalise IT' initiative. It was launched a month ago by the not-for-profit 'e-skills' agency, under which companies including Accenture, Apple, the BBC, Cisco, John Lewis, LogicaCMG, Microsoft and Vodafone work to support and strengthen the links between business and IT education. According to e-skills, 'The IT professional workforce has almost doubled in the past 12 years from 550,000 to about 1m, but the number of students choosing to take an IT-related degree has halved since 2001.'


This is clearly a situation that can not continue if the UK or Germany is to remain leading economies.

The UK initiative is a really good step in the right direction, and we support it wholeheartedly - particularly as shortages of key skills in the UK (and key European markets) have threatened to hold back industry and market growth for several years now. The success of this initiative will rely on the collaboration of education, end-user business, and the IT industry, because IT skills issues go beyond just investment in academia.

This holds equally true for Germany where the ICT industry, under BITKOM, is pushing a range of initiatives to try and improve the availability and development of IT skills. The German industry is urging the government to improve immigration laws to recruit additional IT staff, but individual companies are also investing into training on the job, encouraging female applicants, demanding improvements in the science curriculum for students, and even setting-up private universities, such as the Hasso-Plattner-Institute for IT System Technology in Potsdam (set up by SAP's co-founder Hasso Plattner). But most of this work is currently carried out more on an independent basis, and more collaboration between different public and private stakeholders could help - perhaps in the model of 'Revitalise IT'.

In an age where the highly technical jobs are more likely to be offshored, it's not just about training more technical people either. The key challenge is to develop a labour pool that bridges the gap between IT and business issues. This bigger picture view of the issue takes into account factors such as:

Jobs to India: the rush offshore is shifting the balance of IT delivery, but it's wrong to think in terms of 'India stealing jobs'. In fact, Indian offshore firms including TCS, Infosys, and HCL are investing in developing young local talent in Europe, where they're as desperate for good skills as their rivals, and can be part of the solution.

It's not just kids that need to learn: organisations need people who cross the divide between IT and business. Many of the best candidates for this already exist within the client organisations, because they are the people who already have hands on experience. The focus can also be on training business people, as well as those still in education.

A business problem too: related to the point above, is the fact that client organisations need to take the value of IT seriously. If businesses do not value their IT divisions, then perhaps this is why young people do not see it as a proper career option. Investment in internal IT skills development (as in the point above), and recognition of its strategic importance, for example giving IT heads a place on the board, can all help to prove that doing IT actually means you'll have a serious career in business.

By bringing together several different stakeholders, initiatives such as 'Revitalise IT', we hope, will do a lot of good for encouraging young students to get more interested in a career in this industry. But as the points above make clear, industry and the market also have their own part to play.