Corporate IT Forum chairman John Harris wants the organisation address IT skills

Corporate IT Forum chairman John Harris wants the organisation to play a bigger role in developing IT skills and promoting the industry to young peoplePhoto: The Corporate IT Forum

The IT skills shortage has long been an issue but it’s been made worse by the outsourcing and offshoring of jobs, and a growing reluctance of young people to work in the industry. The result is insufficient home-grown IT talent entering businesses.

The Corporate IT Forum (CITF) is one of the organisations trying to address IT skills development by tapping into the expertise of its 320 member organisations and 10,000 individual members.

Founded in 1996, the CITF is a non-profit IT industry group that counts some of the world’s largest businesses and public sector organisations among its members.

Much of the organisation’s work is about helping businesses make savings and create value through the use of IT. Members share knowledge through case studies and innovation sessions and collaborate with other members embarking on similar projects. A focus for the CITF is developing skills and chairman John Harris is looking at several ways the organisation can help boost IT skills in the longer term.

He recently outlined to three initiatives he wants the organisation to focus on to lay the foundations for a strong IT workforce for the UK in the future.

The skills problem

The CITF is fairly good at sharing knowledge between companies about present issues, according to Harris, but it could do more to address longer term issues.

As a result of the outsourcing and offshoring of junior IT roles eroding the UK tech talent pool, Harris said there’s no longer the pipeline of young IT professionals who will grow into the senior IT leaders of the future.

“It perhaps means that IT is less attractive for school-leavers and university leavers to come into so we need to be aware of that,” he said.

“If you try to hire an architect now it is harder because there are fewer folks who’ve gone through the traditional career path of junior analyst, analyst, senior analyst, lead tech analyst – that technical channel. A big chunk of that now probably is outside your company and often in another company. So it is harder – we’re already seeing that. There’s no doubt that certain key skillsets are becoming harder to get,” he added.

If nothing is done to address these problems, they’re likely to worsen – so Harris feels the industry must act now. “We need to find out these different angles and different ways of learning. The traditional, ‘Go on a course, read a paper’ – it just isn’t enough these days,” he said.

Mentoring young tech talent

The first new approach for addressing skills that Harris and the CITF are exploring is the development of a mentoring programme for IT graduates.

The idea is that IT professionals “at the earlier parts of their career” hook up with senior professionals working for major companies or government departments separate from their employer.

This approach will provide younger IT professionals with experience of working in another company and give them access to the wealth of knowledge of senior people in a different environment.

Harris added that the mentoring won’t just…

…benefit the people being mentored but the mentors themselves.

“I’d love to mentor someone from another company in the early part of their career because I’d learn a couple of things. I’d learn first of all about another company, how they nurture talent, how that works. Also, you always learn more. You find out about how they’re really using things like Twitter and Facebook to get value – and it’s a different experience.”

Harris also believes there should be little risk of people’s heads being turned when they get an insight into another company because they should see the mentoring programme as a sign that their employers believe in them and value them enough to allow them to develop their skills.

He admitted there will need to be rules because there is an element of risk attached to people working in other businesses.

“If you’re really keen on development and learning, you’ll see this as a positive,” he said.

Harris is aiming to get the mentoring programme off the ground in 2011, starting with a few trials to see how viable and useful it could be before rolling it out further.

Promoting IT as a career

The next area Harris is keen to explore is how the CITF and its members can help other industry bodies evangelise the IT industry to young people as an interesting and rewarding career choice.

Organisations such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Network (Stemnet) require more ambassadors from the IT industry to go into schools and discuss careers in the IT industry, and Harris is keen to find out how CITF members could play a role in these activities.

“I would have thought that CITF members who were truly interested in learning and truly interested in developing talent in the longer term would have an interest in doing some of that,” he said.

Harris is looking at how the CITF can work with organisations such as Stemnet to “play a broader role in promoting technology across the emerging workforce”.

“It’s finding the places where we can take our collective expertise from our members and apply that in a way that is good for the industry overall,” he added.

He said this kind of work, while not paying back straight away, will be valuable in the long term as more people come into the IT workforce with the “right mindset and learning background” in five to 10 years’ time.

Making the CITF a source of research

The final area Harris is looking at is linking up with universities so students studying technology-related subjects can use the CITF as a research source.

The idea is for students to access real business experience when doing their research but also for them to learn about what the CITF does and show that it’s a useful organisation to work with when they start working in the industry.

Harris acknowledged there could be some issues to overcome about how students who are not members of the CITF can use some of the organisation’s services, but he is confident that some services can eventually be shared.

Although not something that is likely to come to fruition this year, Harris said this scheme is part of the CITF’s general strategy to attract people to the IT industry in the longer term.

“We’re not going to solve that problem overnight but for out talent coming through we need to nurture them and help them more than ever,” Harris said.