An IT degree is no longer necessary for success in the IT department and could even hold graduates back, according to silicon.com’s exclusive poll of CIOs.

IT graduates are already faring far worse than their peers when it comes to finding a job, research out last week found. While total graduate unemployment stands at 8.9 per cent, IT graduates are facing unemployment rates of 16.3 per cent, according to a report by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU).

And with technological innovation and development occurring at such a fast rate, IT graduates may find the skills they have developed over their degree course irrelevant by the time they leave university, HECSU said.

Piling on the bad news for IT graduates, when asked “Do you need an IT degree to have a successful career in IT?” the silicon.com CIO Jury was unanimous in its verdict that an IT degree is not necessary for a successful career in technology.

Unemployment rates are higher among IT graduates

Unemployment rates are higher among IT graduates
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Graham Yellowley, technology lead equities at LCH.Clearnet, told silicon.com that a degree specific to IT is not a pre-requisite for a career in the field: “The graduate market is difficult at present but employers are looking for aptitude and attitude so graduates with a strong self-awareness, team working, drive and ability to perform are ideal – as long as they obtain a 2:1 degree.”

According to Alan Bawden, IT and operations director at The JM Group, a business qualification can be more useful than an IT one for those seeking a job in technology.

“I strongly believe that for most UK IT departments a business degree of some sort will be better suited for the IT department of the future. The focus will be on making the business and IT work together. More and more of the technical detail will be outsourced to cheaper cost centres.”

For Derrick Wood, CIO at Wood Group Production Facilities, an IT degree can even hamper graduates.

“From my perspective as a business CIO, I view an IT degree almost as a negative in many cases. In my experience many IT graduates focus on the technology rather than the application of the technology to deliver business benefit through provision of valuable business information and/or enablement of efficient business processes.”

Neil Harvey, IT director at Sindlesham Court, believes IT degrees should include a greater focus on the business side of technology.

“As IT continues to move to becoming a more…

…commodity-based information service, perhaps inevitably, the overwhelmingly technical skills currently given to IT graduates will almost certainly be outdated by the time it comes to using them in the real world. There needs to be a closer partnership between business generally and the education establishments to provide more training in new IT business skills that will be needed for future models, and less of the core technical skills for which demand will inevitably decline.”

Rob Neil, head of business change and technology at Ashford Borough Council, added: “A degree isn’t about training particular practical skills – or shouldn’t be – otherwise loads of humanities courses would fold. It’s also about developing analytical skills, a theoretical context and so on.”

However, Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director at Hachette Filipacchi, said that while graduates don’t need an IT degree, the right one it can certainly help.

“But what constitutes the right one?” he said. “I’ve interviewed loads of bods over the years who have had IT qualifications. Some have been amazingly relevant, others seemed like the most amazing waste of time.

“What I discovered was that courses with the same name could have wildly disparate syllabuses. So I would advise anyone planning a tech-related degree to look very carefully at the content of the course and find out what is most relevant to the world of work post academe. And the only way to do that is to get out and talk to some IT directors and CIOs. So sixth-formers are advised to choose their work experience placements carefully.

“Courses that are very tech-oriented – such as focusing on particular programming languages or web development environments can often be at odds with industry best practice. By being out of date or simply focused on the wrong things. Look for good project management and business analysis modules and tutors or guest lecturers with current industry experience.”

Chris Weston, IS director at Deritend Industries, agreed that while workers don’t necessarily need an IT degree, a relevant university qualification “will surely help”.

However, he warned that many IT degrees are being taught by people with either no experience of the business applications of technology or experience that is incredibly out of date.

“‘Pure’ IT graduates going into coding or similar roles have relevant skills, but those hoping to go into IT management in the private sector are barely equipped. For really vocational qualifications, the courses can really be no longer than 18 to 24 months long, include latest technologies at their core, and squarely focused on where IT adds value to a business,” he said.

And with so many different disciplines and roles existing in IT, having a degree with ‘IT’ in the title is now meaningless, according to Gavin Whatrup, group IT director at Creston.

“In some roles, having an IT degree actually counts against the incumbent, such is the level of stereotyping. Also, the consumerisation of IT has helped to devalue it as a discipline as everyone is now an IT expert. We need to redefine what industry requires to help maintain, build and develop what is a fantastic area to work in.”

Today’s silicon.com CIO Jury was:

  • Alan Bawden, IT and operations director, The JM Group
  • Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director, Hachette Filipacchi
  • Steve Clarke, systems and operations director, TalkTalk Group
  • Neil Harvey, IT director, Sindlesham Court
  • John Keeling, CIO, John Lewis
  • Nick Masterson-Jones, director of IT, Vocalink
  • Rob Neil, head of business change and technology, Ashford Borough Council
  • Chris Weston, IS director, Deritend Industries
  • Gavin Whatrup, group IT director, Creston
  • Steve Williams, director of information systems and services, Newcastle University
  • Derrick Wood, CIO, Wood Group Production Facilities
  • Graham Yellowley, technology lead equities, LCH.Clearnet

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 join silicon.com’s CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should, then drop us a line at editorial@silicon.com