Different solution for different sectors is only way to tackle skills crisis

Lord Leitch’s review of the UK skills crisis, and the subsequent government endorsement, has taken a generalised approach to the skills shortages faced by industry generally and by the IT sector in particular.

Although the government-commissioned review on skills acknowledges there is a problem, it fails to provide tangible recommendations for individual sectors. It has instead focused its attention on providing continued support and funding for generic training schemes that have little impact on industries with skills shortages, such as IT.

The review does not address the IT industry appropriately and the generalised approach has resulted in confusion regarding the way the government intends to manage the situation.

Certainly literacy and numeracy attainment levels could be improved through the national curriculum and raising the age of compulsory education for young people. But what about improving the skills of the current workforce? What about recognising the specific skills shortages that are threatening the state of the economy now and making active decisions to resolve them?

According to e-skills UK (the sector skills council for IT) about 150,000 new recruits will be needed to fill IT jobs each year over the next decade. Yet substantially fewer IT graduates are entering the industry resulting in serious skills shortages.

Therefore, there is a significant demand for workers to change jobs and transfer to the IT industry. This is where distance learning, e-learning and learning while in full-time employment are the only practical options available.

But the government seems ignorant of these facts and continues to provide exclusive backing for public sector-led qualifications and initiatives such as NVQs and the Train to Gain initiative. The government needs to address these issues and take a market-led approach to the skills crisis by encouraging greater take-up of the commercial qualifications demanded by business.

Because of the way funding is channelled though employers and because of the type of qualifications available, the Train to Gain scheme is not relevant to people wishing to train for a job in IT while working full-time in other industries. This presents serious issues for private training companies and people who require other qualifications to progress into new careers.

Although NVQs are a good form of recognition for those already working in a particular role, they do not provide the means for people wanting to move into the IT sector from other industries.

The government needs to recognise that different industries require different solutions to skills shortages. The IT sector is in desperate need of skilled workers yet to fill the number of positions available people need encouragement to transfer from other areas of the workforce.

If the government is unwilling to subsidise or fund private training schemes, which specialise in providing industry-recognised qualifications – such as Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer ones – through distance and e-learning, then these people are forced to either take on credit to pay the fees themselves or, more likely, not train at all.

I urge the government to re-examine Leitch’s recommendations or at least provide specific measures, such as VAT relief or the introduction of tax relief for employers and/or students. Only then will transferring into the IT industry become accessible to the thousands of workers wishing to train for a rewarding career in IT and ease the pressure of the pending skills crisis.

Karl Parkinson is chairman of Computeach, an IT skills training company

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