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BA takes on first tech hires 'in years'

Chief information officer Paul Coby has spoken about the importance of tech skills in the UK, and says more should be done to improve IT career paths

British Airways has made its first new hires of IT staff for six years, as its chief information officer Paul Coby warns that more needs to be done to improve the career paths of tech workers in the UK.

Coby was speaking at the CIO Forum conference of ZDNet.co.uk's sister site, silicon.com. He said IT has transformed BA since 9/11 "and in the next six years it will do it again", adding: "That's why IT matters to BA."

He told the audience of tech chiefs that for the first time since 2001, BA has recruited 25 new IT professionals this year. The recruits will be given an 18-month course covering IT delivery, design and operations.

Coby said: "We felt we were missing the kind of refreshment that is necessary so we worked really hard to make space to be able to hire 25 new people. We are still cutting costs but we also have to recruit at the same time. We have to recruit because we would just wither if we didn't, but it's not an excuse for not cutting costs or for not working with excellent suppliers overseas."

He explained that BA is putting in place at least eight days of professional training for every member of the IT department each year, and has set up eight "master practitioners" and "gurus" — technical experts who are the "go-to people if you need somebody to talk to". BA is trying to align its job roles with the industry reference model known as the Skills Framework for the Information Age, and is also working with schools near Heathrow on Computer Clubs for Girls.

Coby said technology is "fundamental to the functioning of this country's economy and society", but warned of a skills crisis among IT professionals.

He also spoke about the importance of proper career paths for tech workers in the UK, adding: "You would not need to talk like this in Mumbai or Shanghai, the government understands the importance of IT."