Kathryn Cave (Global) - IT Skills Part 2 - Training

The global IT skills landscape is uneven and in need of overhauling. Kathryn Cave, Editor at IDG Connect, continues with her series. This week, training.

To accompany our special report on ‘The Global IT Skills Landscape, Summer 2011' IDG Connect has created a four-part series on IT skills, which will be published every Thursday until 15th September. Part two addresses the importance of training the global IT workforce.

In 2009 a high profile survey was published which found that the top three career aspirations for five- to 11-year-olds in Britain were sports star, pop star and actor. This revealed very different ambitions from the children of 25 years ago, who favoured teacher, banker and doctor as their professions of choice. The message here appears to be that today's youth aims towards short lived, easily measured glamour.

IT commands high expertise as a profession. It is not glamorous, but it covers a range of skill sets, can provide high wages, and clearly has longevity as a career. For people who are prepared to adapt and cultivate new areas of expertise throughout their working lives, there is real potential to progress on the basis of merit. Recent research from e-Skills in the UK shows that IT and telecoms professionals are often far more highly educated than other workers, with over 50% holding an undergraduate or higher degree, compared to only 26% employed in other professionals. Within this context, it seems strange that there should be a lack of available IT talent.

Findings suggest that the problem starts early. Perhaps this really is down to IT's geeky, unglamorous image? Last summer, official UK GCSE figures revealed that the number of 16-year-olds sitting exams in ICT fell by 17%. Karen Price, Chief Executive of e-Skills UK commented that "The proportion of IT and telecoms professionals under the age of 30 has declined from 33% in 2001 to only 19% in 2010"; while Hays recruitment warns "The UK could be sleepwalking into an IT skills shortage, as fewer young people look to study computing and related courses at school and university."

Interestingly, the majority of people we surveyed did not place ‘lack of interest in IT careers' as a major factor for employment problems in their area. Yet some of the comments we received from participants were quite illuminating. One IT Network Manager from the United States suggested that many IT employment problems in his area arose from the fact that it is "lack of hands on training versus purely theoretical", another talked about a "lack of pipeline of talent", while an IT Manager from Pakistan stated "Educational/ training institutions do not keep up syllabi with new/emerging technologies, methods and practices."

But training is not just relevant at the early stage of people's careers. In an industry as fast moving as IT, the way skills are trained, honed and nurtured has a huge impact on the talent available to the industry as a whole. And on every continent outside of Europe and North America more people said ‘yes', they did think poor IT training was to blame for employment problems in their area than ‘no' they did not.

In Europe and North America the IT skills shortage must, in part at least, be a question of image: despite the meteoric rise of covetable consumer technology - IT does not seem exciting. The iPad may be the epitome of glamour, but Tim Cook is not. Although few teens make positive career choices early on, they can inadvertently limit potential options by decisions they make when they are fourteen.

The future of our global economy hinges on transformations in IT. It has already revolutionised work, the way we socialise and communicate; now it needs to ensure it attracts and maintains the right talent to drive itself into 2012 and beyond.

Next Thursday: IT skills, part 3 - generation y
Thursday 15th September: IT skills, part 4 - the future

Missed part 1?

IT skills, part 1 - ‘talentism'

Tell us what you think: either pop your comment below, or if you prefer, drop me an email at Kathryn_cave@idg.com Kathryn Cave is Editor of IDG Connect International.