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BCS: UK tech industry faces skills crisis

Industry will go elsewhere if there is no investment in UK skills now, according to the president of the British Computing Society
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The UK technology industry faces a looming skills crisis, according to the president of the British Computing Society, Professor Nigel Shadbolt.

A fall of a third in the intake for full-time undergraduate computer science degrees since 2001, coupled with a technology industry increasingly hungry for skills could combine to have a major effect on the UK economy, Shadbolt told ZDNet UK on Friday.

"The technology industry is vibrant and growing — adding over 150,000 new jobs per annum," said Shadbolt. "There is an increase in demand, while the number of people with relevant skills is staying static or declining — clearly there will be a shortfall."

The professor said there was a complex set of reasons for the problem, and that schools and teachers needed more support in order to maintain the current high calibre of UK technology skills.

"People who teach IT often feel they are delivering a support function rather than encouraging students to think creatively," said Shadbolt.

A positive message needs to be sent about science and technology to encourage more study and participation, he added.

"It's a job of work to say to people that this extraordinary profession has changed the world, and will continue to do so in the future," said Shadbolt.

Shadbolt is calling for an integrated, concerted national strategy involving collaboration between professional bodies, government and schools to further understand the nature of the problem, and find a solution.

"I'm not saying there aren't a significant number of capable people who are essentially self-taught, but [the strategy] needs to be structured and organised nationally, in an integrated fashion," said Shadbolt.

The booming games industry combined with tech such as nano- and bio-technology are driving the need for skills. Shadbolt said that there was a danger that multinational companies may go elsewhere to find skills, taking valuable investment in the UK ecomomy with them.

"Flight [of international companies] will happen if there is no investment in training the right skills in the UK," said Shadbolt.

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