The government launched a new action plan this week to address the UK's apparent shortage of business IT skills but UK IT chiefs are divided on whether such a skills gap actually exists.
The Sector Skills Agreement for IT has the backing of the government and e-skills UK, who will provide work placements, business advice and training support to the scheme through members such as BA, Cisco and Ford.
But silicon.com's CIO Jury user panel of leading UK IT bosses was split when asked if there is an IT skills gap in the UK, with six voting 'yes' and six voting 'no'.
Phil Young, head of IT operations at Amtrak Express Parcels, said: "In my opinion no skills gap exists. What does exist is a lack of people with the right mentality to take the UK forward in this area. We can no longer afford to carry small-minded people in the business who will only do and think technology. Information technology is dying and should be rebranded as information services."
Management and business skills rather than technical skills is where the gap exists, according to Sean Powley, head of IS strategy at the London Borough of Barnet. "The IT skills are there but what's missing are the skills and competences to enable convergence of the IT and business strategies, which in turn is causing businesses and other organisations in the UK to fail to fully exploit the benefits of their technology," he said.
Neil Hammond, head of IT at British Sugar, agreed. "I can usually find/hire/contract technical skills from somewhere. What is harder to find is people with the management skills to run an operational IT department, and who can also drive through continuous improvement to ensure IT stays cost effective, and who can successfully engage with the business and talk about IT in terms that the business can relate to," he said.
Even some of those who agreed there is a skills gap said the government action plan is too late and will do too little to address the problem.
John Odell, group IT director at the BBA Group, said: "[The skills gap] is patchy and little to do with this e-skills initiative. As usual, when government gets involved the targeted problem is already on the mend. The productivity gap is more to do with process innovation and capital investment by business."
Others questioned the definition of an 'IT skills gap'. Stephen Hand, group IT director at Lloyds Register, said: "In my view the UK is not producing or training the IT skills needed to support business requirements. We are producing some people with some vocational training but not the complete skill set to be an IT professional."
Andy Pepper, director of business information systems at Tetley, said: "I feel there is an IT skills gap but it's wider than technology. It's finding the technologists with other abilities such as problem solving, logical thinking, business acumen and social skills. It's having a mixture of all of these that makes the difference."
This week's CIO Jury was…
Neil Hammond, head of IT, British Sugar
Stephen Hand, group IT director, Lloyds Register
John Keeling, director of computer services, John Lewis
Christopher Linfoot, IT director, LDV
Colin Moore, head of information services, Department for Education and Skills
John Odell, group IT director, BBA Group
Andy Pepper, director of business information systems, Tetley
Sean Powley, head of IS strategy at London Borough of Barnet
Jacques Rene, head of IT and projects, Airclaims
Richard Rundle, IT director, BAA
Gavin Whatrup, IT director, Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners
Phil Young, head of IT operations, Amtrak Express Parcels
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