Qualifications conundrum

Carl Randell reports on the results from the BCS Young Professionals Group's recent survey, which aimed to find out what its members felt about IT qualifications and how they were being perceived in the work place.

Introduction

Over recent years there has been substantial press coverage highlighting the decline in IT graduates in the UK (23 per cent reduction in IT degree applications 2005/06 from 2002/034).

Nigel Shadbolt, the current BCS president, stated back in November last year that this reduction will cause serious problems for the UK's IT industry, increasing the migration of jobs overseas1.

Microsoft and LogicaCMG, to name just two IT businesses, have also echoed the same concerns 2,3. With this topic getting so much attention in the media what do IT graduates themselves think to this decline?

The BCS YPG recently launched a survey to gather the opinions of the YPG membership on how relevant their degree is to their job now and in the future, what qualifications they currently have, and what areas they think should be improved in an IT degree.

Results

Of the nearly 1,800 YPG members who responded to the survey 54 per cent hold a first degree in an IT related subject, 19 per cent hold a first degree in a different subject and 26 per cent do not have a degree at all.

In 50 per cent of cases a first degree represented their highest level of academic qualification, while 21 per cent had gained a masters degree, typically in an IT- related subject.

With IT being used across many industries graduates can have an IT career without necessarily studying an IT related degree. This brings about an interesting question, should an IT degree really be promoted by companies as the best way to enter the industry as it has done in the past?

Non IT degrees and professional IT qualifications have been qualification requirements at more senior positions for years, but still most entry level graduate schemes do not specify that they accept applications with these qualifications into the schemes.

The majority thought that IT degrees were beneficial throughout their careers; however, there were significant numbers (28 per cent) who questioned the benefits of their degrees. This perhaps highlights a lack of taught skills that can be useful throughout ones working life, e.g. soft and management skills. 

Participants were also asked which area(s) of IT qualifications they thought needed improving the most. A broad range of views were presented but the general trend seemed to indicate that many thought that project management and the way softer skills (e.g. time management, presentations, networking, etc) were taught needed improving.

Initial recommendations:

To encourage businesses to accept alternatives to IT degrees as an IT entry point.
To promote greater emphasis on soft and management skills taught in IT degrees.

The BCS YPG intends to produce a more comprehensive report in future.

References

  1. 2006, 'Is IT in Crisis?', British Broadcasting Corporation, Last Accessed 15/04/07
  2. 2006, 'Microsoft warns of 'acute' UK skills shortage', ZDNET/CNET Networks UK, Last Accessed 14/04/07
  3. 2006, 'Building a globally competitive IT services industry'. LogicaCMG and CBI, Last accessed 04/04/07
  4. 2007, 'Review of STEM skills supply chain', Last Accessed 12/04/07

For further information as to how this survey was carried out and to see graphical representations of the results go to the following link: Is UK IT in Crisis? (pdf)

June 2007

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