When times are tough, the things we worry about take on a sharper focus and a major concern for CIOs today is looking after their people. This includes how to provide the best leadership, recruit the most talented candidates and develop the skills of existing technology professionals so that they can add most value to the business.

Innovation is the driver of competitive advantage for businesses of all sizes, across all sectors; this is underpinned by technology, and for the technology to work you need skills. As companies become increasingly dependent on technology, they need more IT professionals with the skills to work at the heart of the organisation: turning business needs into technology solutions and supporting colleagues through IT-enabled change. This requires business awareness and communications skills together with advanced technical knowledge. Technology professionals who can demonstrate these skills are immensely valuable to the business, and remain in short supply.

In addition, there is a growing need to find people who can manage IT projects in today's heavily outsourced environments. In many cases, this kind of work involves overseeing and integrating projects across multi-national, multi-cultural, geographically dispersed teams - an exciting and challenging way of working that calls for a new mix of technical and people skills.

Creating a vibrant skills pool with these sorts of capabilities is a challenge that no organisation can address on its own. It needs a united approach that brings together employers, education and government. That is where e-skills UK comes in. As a government-licensed but employer-led organisation, we aim to ensure that the education and development available to future, new and experienced IT professionals meets the needs of the UK in a changing world. The unique collaborations we have forged have resulted in a number of innovative programmes that make a difference to employers.

The starting point is to make sure that everyone speaks the same language. Together with employers, training providers and other partners, we have established a common language and framework for skills, knowledge and experience. The results include the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) and a complementary training framework, e-skills procom, which links SFIA to the national standards for competence in IT. These frameworks help employers define job roles and responsibilities and better match training to skills needs.

We are now building on this to create a National Skills Academy for IT. IT is an industry of constant change and the people who work in technology should never stop learning. We believe that all employers should have access to high-quality and relevant training for their IT workforce - in a way that delivers what they need, when and where they need it. The Skills Academy for IT will help to achieve this.

The Academy will provide training for IT professionals in technical, business and interpersonal skills. This will include existing qualifications such as vendor qualifications and popular, internationally recognised certificates. It will include new qualifications and courses developed with employers - ranging from bite-sized courses to large development programmes such as apprenticeships. Internal training can also be included so as to achieve external recognition.

The Skills Academy will support collaboration among high-quality providers of education and training, both public and private, building on the unique strengths of each partner. This means that training can be delivered in the way that works best for you and your technology staff, incorporating e-learning, face-to-face methods, on-the-job learning and academic study.

As well as the development needs of the existing workforce, we have a particular interest in the pipeline of future talent. New entrants to the IT profession are vital for the sector's renewal and growth. Over the next 10 years or so, around 27,000 people a year will enter technology careers directly from education. There is much that can be done by employers working with universities to help these future recruits develop skills that are valuable to the sector.

Businesses need capable and talented people who can progress quickly to more demanding roles. However, the education system can find it difficult to understand and keep up with the rapidly changing needs of employers. Furthermore, the demand for ever more advanced skills and experience in new IT professionals is complicated by a decline in the kind of entry-level roles that would, in the past, have helped them to gradually build those skills.

Revitalising UK IT

We must overcome these disconnects. The UK has a world-class reputation in computer science and many universities are looking to build on this success by developing additional courses that meet growing employer demand for business-focused technology specialists. With the support of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, we are bringing employers and universities together through the Revitalise IT project to encourage more students into IT-related education and careers and to help universities evolve their courses.

Part of this project is focused on increasing the number and effectiveness of business placements available to students. Research among more than 500 employers revealed that many remain concerned about the ‘employability' of new graduates, and many new recruits are criticised for a lack of business and interpersonal skills as well as a limited appreciation of how an organisation works. The new internship programme will encourage more young people undertaking technology--related degrees to spend time on placements in business acquiring these valuable skills. These placements will contribute towards the student's overall degree achievement.

In meeting the needs of employers, it should be recognised that companies increasingly recruit their new IT professionals from a wide range of backgrounds. As well as graduates from both technical and non-technical degrees, around 110,000 people a year enter the IT profession from sources other than education. This results in a great diversity of training and development needs for new recruits.

To help with this, employers have come together with training providers and universities to establish a new IT Professional Foundation Programme - a flexible, fast-track scheme that will accelerate the development of IT professionals in the early years of their careers. We believe that practical initiatives such as these will help to create the skills, knowledge and experience the sector needs, and enrich the careers of individual IT professionals.
We also believe that they will help the UK as a whole: contributing to the creation of a vibrant and versatile, internationally-respected IT profession. One that will help to attract valuable business, jobs and investment to the UK, and one that will enable all organisations, whatever their size or background, to derive maximum business benefit from technology.

About the author

Karen Price is CEO of e-skills UK, a not-for-profit, employer-led organisation, licensed by government as the Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology

Useful websites

Register with e-skills
www.e-skills.com/register

Revitalise IT and the business placement programme
www.e-skills.com/revitalise

The e-skills IT Professional Foundation Programme
www.e-skills.com/itpdp