Speaking today at the UK Technology Week show at Earl's Court, John Temple Head of the Skills Unit at the Department of Education and Employment acknowledged the need for government intervention to help solve the problem of IT skills shortages in the UK but dismissed surveys that suggest a crisis in IT recruitment.
Temple reaffirmed the government's pledge to connect all schools to the Internet by the year 2002 and announced a spending commitment of £90m. This money will be divided between providing schools with IT equipment and setting up 60 IT Centres of Excellence countrywide.
In terms of further education, Temple acknowledged that there was a "mismatch between the perceptions of the education system and employers needs. He explained: "Universities emphasise programming, whereas employers want networking skills and skills in specific software." Despite Temple's erudite appraisal of the problems facing students and IT teachers, he was unable to offer a solution. "There is an interesting tension here. I don't know what the right balance is but I'm sure there is one to be struck."
Whilst the government encourages schemes such as the one set up at Birmingham FE College - which will provide dual accreditation for students offering both a National Vocational Qualification in IT and a specific system qualification - Temple was unsure if this is the way forward. "Having specific inhouse software skills may help or it may hinder. It also raises the whole question of monopoly of power."
On the issue of IT recruitment, Temple remains optimistic despite recent surveys showing a huge problem in recruiting IT staff. "The supply side is responding and increasing in leaps and bounds" he said. According to Department of Education and Employment figures, the number of IT graduates has increased by 320% in the last ten years and enrolments for IT in further education have risen from 182,000 in 1995 to 403,000 in 1997.
Temple dismissed the validity of recent surveys on the skills shortage, claiming it was hard to get accurate statistics on the issue: "The picture may be a little more complicated than is sometimes presented," he said. The government is keen to formulate a national IT skills strategy to provide clarity on where the needs are. "IT is a secret garden and can be pretty obscure to most people. It is not like a traditional industry where there is a well worn analysis of needs" he said.
The image of the industry also needs to be improved, warned Temple. "There is an element of nerdiness in the profession and it is in danger of becoming the Engineering of the Nineties" he said. A similar statement was made last month in a report by Information Builders.