I was with a large group of C-level executives recently and it wasn't long before the perennial topic of skills was mentioned.

There was a general consensus that while a lot of graduates may have excellent technical skills, they often lack what has in the past been deemed as the softer skills, such as management and communication. These are now essential if IT is going to really drive businesses forward.

There is an answer to this problem, but it relies on both private and public sector organisations getting involved.

About five years ago a number of organisations got together with e-skills UK to address this exact problem.

Together we created a new degree — the Information Technology Management for Business (ITMB) degree — where the learning outcomes have been defined by the employers who helped set up the degree, based on the skills that they need in the real business environment.

The course is now being delivered by 13 UK universities and the initiative is endorsed and supported by over 60 of the leading UK employers of IT personnel.

So what are these learning outcomes? They are grouped into four general categories, based around the skills needed by businesses today:

 - Technology and its application to business
 - Business understanding
 - Implementation of projects to satisfy business requirements
 - Personal and interpersonal skills development

These learning outcomes are regularly reviewed by the employers to ensure they are up-to-date and relevant to the current market conditions and each university has a bi-annual review with the employers to ensure their course meets the required criteria.

There are many other unique benefits of the degree through the constant involvement of the employers through initiatives such as:

 - Active involvement in university open daysNational all-student events
 - Guru lectures from industry experts (12 per year)
 - Mock interview days and CV clinics
 - Internship, work placement and preferential graduate recruitment programmes
 - Industry mentors
 - Employer sponsored competitions and prizes

One of the additional benefits we are seeing over time is the positive effect the ITMB degree is having on the gender mix; IT and computer science degrees are very male dominated (only 15 percent female), but the ITMB mix is much more balanced with an increasing number of female students (currently 30 percent and growing).

So, what's in it for ITMB graduates and potential students in the UK?

The chance to stand out from the crowd. In an increasingly competitive market and with a shortage of opportunities for graduates, the chance to have a degree endorsed by many of the largest employers in the UK of IT skills, including Sainsbury's, IBM and Proctor and Gamble.

Up to three of four years active involvement with those employers can only be a positive thing — the chance to get a head-start in impressing future employers, while gaining the necessary skills throughout the degree course, from real-life business experience.

And the proof is in the number of ITMB graduates now working for the supporting organisations and my own experience of the outstanding talent coming from the programme.

In fact, our first ITMB graduate has completed our Associate Services Consultant Programme.

So to all those employers who may be despairing that UK graduates do not have the right skills, or may be looking abroad for skills — look closer to home.

Get involved in the programme and get access to a highly employable group of students who possess a well-balanced set of skills ready to make your organisation successful.

Get the opportunity to influence and steer the on-going development of the ITMB degree and build relationships with some of the leading universities to tap into the undoubted talent we have in the UK.

Colin Bannister is VP and CTO at CA Technologies, UK & Ireland

Pic: stuartpilbrow cc2.0