There are few aspects of business today untouched by the impact of technology. This has immense implications for the role of the IT professional. No longer tucked away in a basement, today's IT professional operates at the heart of the business.
With this changing role comes an increasing need for IT professionals to demonstrate high standards of professional competence and achievement. Professionalism is linked inextricably to skills.
e-skills UK is the employer-led Sector Skills Council for IT and telecoms. We bring employers together with government, education and other stakeholders to address important IT skills issues no party can solve on its own.
What are these important skills issues and how do they contribute towards establishing IT as a recognised and valued profession?
If we look at IT performance at its best, we find IT professionals with sophisticated technical knowledge able to understand and communicate the business benefits of IT.
We find people who can effectively develop and implement IT strategy, in the context of business competitiveness and opportunity. We find people who can run projects and support a company through IT-enabled change. All this demands a broad and sophisticated skill set covering technical, business and personal skills.
The education and training sector has an essential role to play in developing the knowledge and skills IT professionals require. Around 80 per cent of IT professionals employed in 2005 will still be part of the workforce in 2012.
It is vital that they are encouraged and able to develop their skills throughout their career. At the same time, employers need to work together with education and government to ensure that young people in full time education acquire the IT-related skills and knowledge that meet future business needs and provide rewarding careers.
The changing skills landscape
To establish a world leading IT profession, we need to identify the areas of knowledge and skills required by IT professionals over the next five years and beyond, and look at how we can best meet those needs.
Is the education system designed to help young people develop the right skills for employment? Are qualifications world class and respected? Do employers understand the training needs of their staff and how to address them? Does government policy support emerging employer skills needs?
e-skills UK and Gartner have undertaken a major review of the IT skills landscape in the UK. This work revealed the key trends impacting on the IT workforce over the next decade and the associated implications for skills.
The key trends identified include the increasing globalisation of business - with outsourcing and geosourcing impacting greatly on the profile of the IT profession in the UK; increasing technology standardisation; the implementation of new channel strategies; remote and collaborative working; an increasing focus on privacy and security; and the transformation of IT into a utility-style service.
The boundaries between an IT manager and a business manager are becoming less distinct. IT professionals can find themselves embedded within business units, and business managers can find themselves working in IT departments.
This has far-reaching implications for the structure of IT departments within companies and the potential career paths open to individual IT professionals.
Addressing skills needs
The study undertaken by e-skills UK and Gartner underpins the e-skills UK Sector Skills Agreement for IT - a ten-year vision supported by a three-year action plan to meet future skills needs and close the UK’s productivity gap with major international competitors.
The work of e-skills UK focuses on four strategic objectives: improving the attractiveness of careers in IT; preparing the future IT workforce for successful employment; helping the current IT professional workforce to meet the changing needs of the market; and addressing skills infrastructure matters through policy influence and the reform of standards and qualifications.
Qualifications reform is at the heart of the 'professionalisation' of IT. IT professionals and their employers need access to valued and respected qualifications and continuing professional development that meets their needs and career aspirations.
As the custodian of the UK's National Occupation Standards for IT & telecoms, e-skills UK is developing the overarching Sector Qualifications Strategy for IT, which will provide a coherent framework for all IT-related qualifications.
The role of SFIA
e-skills UK has worked with BCS, the Institution of Electrical Engineers and the Institute for the Management of Information Systems to develop the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA).
It is a recognised and comprehensive classification of the skills required by IT professionals. It includes descriptions of what should be expected at different levels of expertise.
In November 2005, e-skills UK introduced the SFIA Profiler, an online skills management tool that allows companies to navigate easily through SFIA while benefiting from SFIA's universally recognised definitions and skill descriptions.
To prepare a future workforce that meets high professional requirements, we need a world class education system that reflects employer needs in terms of technical and business knowledge and employability skills.
e-skills UK has developed the honours degree in Information Technology Management for Business (ITMB) in partnership with employers such as IBM, Dell and Morgan Stanley.
Now in its inaugural year at four universities, ITMB has a strong focus on team work and managing real projects. Graduates will enter the workforce able to make an immediate contribution to business productivity and success.
e-skills UK is also working with employers, education and qualification bodies to develop the new Specialised Diploma in the IT line of learning for 14 to 19 year-olds in full-time education.
The Diploma will comprise a challenging and business-relevant programme of learning that effectively prepares young people for higher education and IT professional and business-oriented careers.
And to address the ongoing challenge of attracting talented people from all sectors of the population into IT, the awarding winning, after-school Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) are transforming the attitude of a generation of 10 to 14 year-old girls to technology. By 2008, CC4G will have reached 150,000 girls in 3,600 schools.
The role of the IT professional is changing. Whether working within the IT industry or in an IT role in another sector, IT professionals need to complement advanced technical knowledge with the business, communication and team working skills that enable them to operate effectively at the heart of the business. Education and training are vital in achieving this.
e-skills UK and Gartner reviewed the IT skills landscape in the UK. These are the key trends impacting on the IT workforce over the next decade and the associated implications for skills:
- Globalisation of business.
- Technology standardisation.
- The implementation of new channel strategies.
- Remote and collaborative working.
- An increasing focus on privacy and security.
- The transformation of IT into a utility-style service.