IT skills: The UK must do more or be left behind

We're simply not doing enough to promote IT training and certification...
Written by Matthew Poyiadgi, Contributor on

We're simply not doing enough to promote IT training and certification...

Compared with other countries around the world, the UK lags in the creation of IT skills. That weakness must be remedied, says Matthew Poyiadgi.

It always surprises me that there is not more of a public push to get people into IT. We hear endlessly, and rightly, about the need for people to enter valuable fields such as science, yet IT seems to be left out of the wider public debate. That omission is a shame.

IT is an exciting and dynamic profession, but more importantly it is key to our economy. A recent e-skills UK report highlighted digital technology as the single biggest lever for productivity and competitiveness, suggesting the UK could make an additional £35bn from IT over the next five to seven years.

IT already makes a huge contribution to UK plc. Governments and companies are benefiting from major projects such as cloud computing and virtualisation, and using IT to drive down carbon emissions.

Marketing opportunities
New communication technology makes business more flexible and provides new marketing opportunities, changing the face of everything from start-ups to multimillion dollar international trading. All this progress relies on a network of skilled IT professionals to develop, implement and manage the technology.

Unfortunately the sector is struggling to attract the next generation of IT professionals. Unlike the public alarm over subjects such as science, there seems little particular concern outside the industry. As a result companies, and the country as a whole, are missing important growth opportunities.

If businesses and government departments are to reap the economic and social benefits of IT, they need to ensure the right training and qualifications are available to attract new blood and develop existing professionals.

Entry-level certifications
Global trade association CompTIA has long been involved in developing entry-level certifications to support people starting out in the sector. Our experience of doing this around the world paints a worrying picture for the UK.

Many countries have recognised the huge economic potential of IT skills and are investing accordingly. Others, including the UK, seem unaware of the situation. While some excellent small-scale initiatives exist, we risk being left behind by not providing more widely available support to bring people into the profession.

Singapore is an example of a country that is making the right moves. It recognised that a globally competitive IT workforce was essential to its economic success. So it set up the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore to increase the number of IT jobs by 55,000 by 2015.

A key is funding training programmes and industry certifications. By providing funded places with strong career opportunities, Singapore is successfully encouraging young nationals into the sector as well as attracting talent from abroad.

Technology skills portal
Forward-thinking companies are also working to ensure their skills' needs are met. Cizgi Tagem is a not-for-profit arm of Cizgi Electronics, a Turkish electronics company, which recently invested in creating an e-education portal to help increase the skills of Turkey's youth. It aims to give technology staff a chance to develop skills, while making others aware of the potential of an IT career.

As well as fulfilling the firm's charitable intention, this measure ensures a dynamic pool of young IT professionals in the coming years to meet its growing IT needs. As a result, hundreds of students are now taking an interest in the country's fastest-moving sector.

The UK must follow these examples. IT has a huge contribution to make to the UK economy and is crying out for new talent. Capitalising on this potential means promoting the value of a career in IT and investing in training and certifying IT workers.

If we don't invest in developing our IT workforce now we will fall behind, while other companies and countries reap the rewards of this lucrative market.

Matthew Poyiadgi is European vice president at global not-for-profit trade association CompTIA, which works to advance the international interests of information technology professionals and organisations, including manufacturers, distributors, resellers, and educational institutions.

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