Employment in IT and telecoms is set to grow at five times the national average over the next decade, requiring 110,000 new entrants this year alone to keep up with demand, according to new research.
At the same time, fewer young people are studying technology at school and university, with the figures particularly low for women, according to the Technology Insights 2011 study, published on Tuesday by E-skills UK. The technology industry body said the results show that IT should be the primary focus for driving economic recovery.
"Technology is the UK's key ingredient for driving private sector-led economic growth, productivity, global competitiveness and wealth creation," E-skills UK said in a statement, adding that the sector "will underpin the majority of future job creation in the UK".
The report noted that the IT and telecoms industry alone already contributes £81bn per year to the UK economy, and if exploited fully could boost the rest of the UK economy by £50bn over the next five to seven years.
The IT workforce currently employs 1.5 million people, or about one in every 20 UK employees, according to E-skills UK. Of these, 40 percent are employed in the IT and telecoms industry itself, with the rest spread across every other sector of the economy.
The skills body forecast that employment in the sector will grow at 2.19 percent per year, nearly five times faster than the UK average, with more than 500,000 new professionals needed over the next five years.
Nearly half of the new entrants in the IT and telecoms sector this year will be people employed in other occupations moving into the sector, while 17 percent will come directly from education, the study predicted.
Like other recent studies, E-skills UK's research identified trends that cast doubt on the UK's ability to supply the recruits needed to fill these roles in the future.
The study found there has been a 33-percent reduction in applicants to computing degree courses since 2002, while applications to other science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) courses have increased by an average of 23 percent over a similar period.
Only nine percent of students taking A-level computing and 15 percent of those on computing degrees were found to be female.
In the meantime, the sector increasingly needs older, more experienced staff rather than younger recruits from the education system, the study found. It noted that the proportion of professionals in the sector under 30 dropped from 33 percent in 2001 to 19 percent in 2010, while the proportion of those over 50 almost doubled, to 17 percent.
The IT sector is one of the very few that has continued expanding its recruitment over the past decade, but in terms of interest from students and recent graduates, it is at an all-time low. – Martin Birchall, High Fliers Research
These figures echo a study by High Fliers Research released earlier in January, which found that just three percent of the 16,000 graduates surveyed in 2010 wanted to work in IT, down from 12 percent in 2000.
"There are a quarter of the number of people there used to be who are prepared to work in IT," Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said at the time of the report's release. "It's one of the very few sectors that has continued expanding its recruitment over the past decade, but in terms of interest from students and recent graduates, it is at an all-time low."
Aside from IT jobs as such, the E-skills UK study found that IT skills were increasingly needed by workers across the UK economy, with 77 percent of the total workforce, or 22 million people, using IT in their jobs.
In addition, a survey released in January by Microsoft found that schools were rarely fulfilling their role in giving students the IT skills needed for employment, with most UK teachers failing to implement the government's IT teaching policy.
"There's still a long way to go in making sure schools are using best practice," Microsoft's director of education Steve Beswick told ZDNet UK at this year's BETT conference. "We should be using ICT to teach rather than just teaching ICT."