IT graduates failing to make the business grade, say UK tech chiefs

CIO Jury: "How universities can give degrees to people like this is beyond me"

IT graduates are leaving UK universities without the business and technical competencies that employers need, according to silicon.com's CIO Jury.

The majority of the jury said they believe universities are not producing IT graduates with the right skills for their businesses - bad news for graduates competing for the diminishing number of IT jobs.

Only four of the 12 IT chiefs said they feel tech graduates are finishing university with the expertise their companies are looking for.

Gavin Megnauth, director of operations and group IT at Morgan Hunt, said the subjects being taught in universities have not kept pace with the rate of change in the IT industry, including the widespread adoption of outsourcing.

"There has been a quantum leap forward in key aspects of IT over the past decade.

"It has been a fast moving era for our industry and understandably IT academia has not been able to keep pace to deliver us graduates who can hit the ground running, embracing real-world IT without… un-learning some of the dated rules of IT that they've been taught," he said.

IT graduates don't make the grade for UK CIOs

IT graduates don't make the grade for UK CIOs (photo credit: DeclanTM via Flickr.com under the following Creative Commons licence)

Ben Acheson, IT manager at PADS Printing and Commercial Stationery, also believes IT graduates are not making the grade.

"I have seen people with more than one degree and even more than one Masters, who have virtually no knowledge of computers and in some cases an inability to form proper sentences," he said.

"How universities can give degrees to people like this is beyond me. They are devaluing and undermining the qualification."

For Mike Roberts, IT director at the London Clinic, graduates are falling down on their technical abilities.

"More coverage of the use of standard products and technologies in programming are needed. Also, there is a lack of infrastructure skills from MCSE-type experience to Unix system management," he said.

The biggest problem for Neil Hammond, head of IT at British Sugar, is finding university leavers with a broad enough range of both technical and other skills.

"It's surprisingly hard to find graduates which have a combination of the technical skills and the right soft skills.

"Broadly speaking, the role of staff in our IT department is to work with the business to deliver the systems that the business requires… so when looking for IT graduates we are looking for technical skills, leadership skills and collaboration skills."

The skills shortfall appears to be worsening: while the latest CIO Jury, two-thirds of the panel felt graduates did not have the right skills for business, in 2007 only a third of the CIO Jury found university teaching to be lacking.

If CIOs want a high calibre of candidate then they need to do some detective work about the courses offered by universities, according to Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director with publisher Hachette Filipacchi.

"When I have interviewed graduates, it was apparent that there was a vast difference in the course content available over all the universities," he said.

"Some are much more techie than others, whilst a few actually begin to address project management in a business context. So you need to do your research on the course, then ask focused questions of the graduate."

This CIO Jury was:

  • Ben Acheson, IT manager, PADS Printing and Commercial Stationery
  • Alastair Behenna, CIO, Harvey Nash
  • Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director, Hachette Filipacchi
  • Chris Ford, IT director, Nottingham City Council
  • Steve Gediking, head of IT and facilities, Independent Police Complaints Commission
  • Adam Gerrard, CIO, Avis Europe
  • Ben Grinnell, IT director, Business Design and Development Directorate, UK Border Agency
  • Neil Hammond, head of IT, British Sugar
  • Gavin Megnauth, director of operations and group IT, Morgan Hunt
  • Rob Neil, head of ICT and customer services, Ashford Borough Council
  • Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic
  • Richard Storey, head of IT, Guy's & St Thomas' Hospital

Want to be part of silicon.com's CIO Jury and have your say on the hot issues for IT departments? If you are a CIO, CTO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and you want to be part of silicon.com's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at editorial@silicon.com


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I've been helping graduates fit in the real world for decades. Making code readable, fall back positions, big picture, communication, just an appreciation that real word is a lot messier than the classroom.


I started in IT in 1988 as an analyst programmer. When I was hired there were broad complaints then about hiring graduates, as they were deemed to have little or no understanding of the practical application of IT systems, products, methods and strategies in a real world business environment. I believe that many companies these days are employing inefficient recruitment methods to find the people they seek. As a means of assessing potential employees, CVs and interviews are worse than useless, I recall an anecdote going around even back then about a girl who bluffed her way into a job with one of the big IT companies (Honeywell Bull or HP I seem to recall). When the company concerned discovered that she had lied her way through the whole process (or so the story goes), they were so embarrassed/impressed that they paid for her to be trained up to work for them anyway. Of course in those days employers were very happy to train employees in order that they could do their work in accordance with the company culture and methods.

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