The IT skills gap: familiarity breeds contempt?

I recently hosted a video debate for BCS on the IT skills gap. One of the problems with this sort of subject is that it can engender a we’ve-been-here-before-and-we’ll-be-here-again style sigh.

Whilst that may be an understandable response, it doesn’t make the problem any less urgent - in fact perhaps the apathy of familiarity is deleterious to addressing it (as Oscar Wilde once said).

It was good that the panel I had - Chris Shaw from Intel; Sara Hill from Capability Jane and Philip Black from Emergn - are all enthusiastic about addressing the issues.

Buy or build talent?

Giving Intel’s perspective Chris identified one of their dilemmas as being buying versus building talent. Historically they have looked predominantly at building talent, recruiting college graduates with an intern pipeline to then building their skills internally with the organisation, including exposing them to different departments to help build their careers. 

There is also an argument for some buying in though, because you can’t necessarily build at the pace required to address organisational gaps. Some key talent being brought in can drive your organisation’s development faster.  Intel has done that in areas such as user experience design. 

Chris said: ‘I would still love to build as much talent as I can within the organisation but I’d say it’s probably now in the 90/10 mix of build versus buy, maybe even shifting to 80/20.’

STEM issues?

Sarah was shocked when her nine-year-old daughter said that she’s ‘not that keen on maths, maths is for boys.’ As Sarah says, we’ve definitely got to do something about that.

‘I think there’s definitely something to be done on the education piece in terms of closing the skills gap,’ she says, ‘but I think there’s a really, really easy piece that we can do, low hanging fruit. We did a piece of research looking at women in IT and we found that nearly 50 per cent of the women that we surveyed that were actually in technology roles, in technical project management roles, etc. but didn’t have a stem degree. 

‘One of the principal criteria in over 80 per cent of roles that are put out to market is that you have to have a STEM degree, boom, 50 per cent of the female market place is out. I think it’s really easy to fix that one.’

Getting the business skills

Philip referred to his own experience - he did a computer science degree, but found that the most valuable part of it was the year he spent in industry - seeing what the world really wanted.

‘Yes there was a lot of theory,’ he says, ‘I had to learn about programming languages and databases and all of those sorts of interesting things. But actually it’s the world of work, it’s the politics that happen in the work place, how do you get on well, how do you build teams and I haven’t seen the evidence that the universities are really doing that side of life. I think we’re producing people who kind of get the theory of it but are they ready for the work place when they come out? I am not seeing the evidence of that part.’

Philip also mentioned secondments, that have been used in larger more traditional businesses to get some of those experiences. ‘There’s a couple of things there,’ he says, ‘the Tech City part of that encouraging entrepreneurial tech leaders is a great idea but those entrepreneurs are still going to need IT talent coming out of wherever it comes out of in the UK in order to create a silicon valley environment.’ 

The full debate also covers: Talent management, STEM qualifications, upskilling employees, the BCS role and more.

It can be seen on the BCS website in full.

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  • 1
    Karen wrote on 17th Nov 2014

    I also really liked Sara's point about women tending to only apply for jobs where they meet 100% of the criteria being asked for. Maybe with a little re-packaging of job specs, more women could be encouraged to apply for jobs in IT...?

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About the author

Brian is Head of Content at BCS and blogs about the Institute’s role in making IT good for society, historical developments in computing, the implications of CS research and more.

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February 2018