Computer Weekly Editor's Blog

Jan 18 2011   3:46PM GMT

IT employment stats show scale of the problem of engaging young people to work in IT

Bryan Glick Bryan Glick Profile: Bryan Glick


The latest statistics on UK IT employment confirms what I had suspected – and blogged about late last year – about young people’s prospects as IT professionals.

According to e-Skills UK, the IT sector skills council, the proportion of the UK IT workforce below 30 has dropped from 33% in 2001 to just 19% in 2010 – and this in an industry that had for years been accused of ageism.

The e-Skills survey also says that UK IT needs 110,000 new entrants into the workforce this year, and that 17% of those are expected to come straight out of education – which means more than 18,000 students becoming IT professionals this year.

You would have thought this would make IT-related topics attractive to study – but computer science graduates have the hardest task of any degree course finding work: 17% of 2009 computer science students were unemployed a year after they graduated.

Of course employers will say that they don’t just need technical skills and will recruit from other subjects – which is all good of course, but equally says very little for what they think about the product of current computer science degrees.

I’m sure if you talked to someone outside the IT industry, and told them that the profession is struggling to recruit enough young people, they would be gobsmacked, given the enormously tech-savvy generation that has grown up on the internet, using Facebook through their iPhones every day.

Talk to almost anyone inside the IT industry, and they will point a finger at secondary school IT education, which is almost universally seen too be, well, frankly, rubbish.

Research released at the BETT education show earlier this month suggested that 71% of 16 to 18-year-olds surveyed said they learn more about technology outside the classroom, while 58% said they have a greater level of understanding of IT than their teachers.

And experts at BETT hit out against an outdated IT curriculum and unenthusiastic teaching staff as reasons for low student take-up of the subject at school.

The curriculum is awful – all about how to use Word and Excel, which for 11- or 12-year olds must be like reading Rupert the Bear for English Literature given their familiarity with PCs, smartphones and gaming by that age. Surely it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that kids at that age will be engaged by topics like, how does your Xbox work, or how to develop an iPhone app, or what is the technology behind a mobile phone network?

The BCS, for one, is on the case, and a delegation from the Chartered Institute for IT was due to meet universities minister David Willetts this week to discuss what IT employers want from university graduates. They hope to also get an introduction to schools secretary Michael Gove, to discuss reform of the IT curriculum.

But all this takes time – and if e-Skills is correct, with 110,000 new jobs to fill in IT this year alone, it’s going to be a struggle to meet those short-term needs. And sadly, if IT employers can’t find the resources they need here in the UK, they all now know there is a huge graduate population in India and elsewhere only too eager to contribute to UK IT in a way that you won’t see from UK youngsters.

8  Comments on this Post

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  • Chrismevans
    The UK is completely failing the IT industry. My children learn less about the mechanics of IT than I did 30 years ago, when IT in schools was in its infancy. Today they learn to use tools - Excel/Word/Powerpoint, where they relate to other subjects like producing presentations or multimedia. Whilst this is IT in a form, it is IT for use in general business life; it's not IT for the IT professional. I see an ageing IT staff, with very few new graduates or trainees being taken on. In 20 years' time I fear we will have no IT industry at all.

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  • Matt
    The reason many companies are taking on fewer graduate trainees is because they can import Indian graduate trainees under the intra-company transfer scheme far more cheaply. And not surprisingly, many young people look at the thousands of IT job lost or shipped offshore in recent years and ask themselves why they should spend lots of money studying to enter an industry that will throw them on the scrapheap by the time they are 35, even if they are "lucky" enough to get into the business in the first place. Also, the misplaced insistence by recruiters on a largely irrelevant Computer Science degree for many roles further reduces the available pool of graduate recruits to enter the profession. In any case, there are already thousands of experienced and skilled IT professional who cannot find work, but businesses do not want to employ them because it's cheaper (in the short term) to ship work offshore or import an inexperienced junior developer from India. So there is no skills shortage, and there are plenty of skilled 40/50-something IT people around to sustain the industry for at least the next 20 years, if businesses are prepared to employ them.
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  • Richard
    This is absolutely nothing new. A friend of mine who was a university lecturer said the same thing 10 years ago.

    The IT in school is either turning people off because they can't face the prospect (wrongly so) of another 3 years of Excel and Word OR they go into the University course thinking that it is going to be Word / Excel and get a nasty shock when they have to start getting down and dirty with IDE's and coding.

    He indicated then that the first year drop out rate was in the 30% mark.

    Yet again another instance of people who know nothing about IT making assumptions of what it is all about
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  • Pip
    With you there - Having spent much of my career justifying my own existance, I am definately encouraging my children to doing anything but IT
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  • zMarcel
    My two cents: In the past years, the statement "10,00's of cheap IT people from India will take over" have made our children decide that there is no future in IT. Combine this with an almost complete absence of realistic IT eductaion in our schools and we have a recipe for disaster. Two thinks need to happen, 50% of the time spend to tech children about IT should be spend on "real" IT and NOT on completing a Visual Basic program. Secondly, our IT University STUDENTS need to learn IT from experts who work in the field for at least 30% of the time. My son is a University IT Student. He works on a project and one of the guys who is a 3rd year IT Architect student suggested to do a complete project in Flash... Yes, FLASH!! But IT vendors are also to blame. Many software products are not "modern". Use the same old Windows interface and have no concept of Social networking capabilities that our youngsters use all day. Have a look at one of the latest developments of CA Technologies. They build a mainframe (Yes, a MAINFRAME) platform ( that uses the latest & greatest technologies that will appeal more to the NET generation. Now it's up to us to convince them....
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  • anonymous
    My son wants eventually to study IT at university. His choices for 6th form were - 2 year fully time BTEC course which covered everything I thought he would need to give a good all round IT grounding, or IT A level along with 2/3 other subjects. The A level curriculum is quite frankly rubbish and doesn't really cover anything more demanding than writing an Excel macro. He didn't want to commit himself to the BTEC course in case he changes his mind about working in IT over the next couple of years. He quite rightly wants to keep his options open at this stage by studying more than one subject. Ironically he could have done a project as part of his media studies course which would have involved writing a computer game, but they wouldn't allow him to do it as the teachers at his school don't have any experience in this area!
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  • Paul
    Having worked in IT since the mid-80s there is no way I am prepared to advice my kids to choose a career in IT.

    On average every 2 years I have faced redundancy or reorganisations with job losses and the need to apply for posts in a new structure. I have switched employers 4 times to avoid redundancy, each time choosing a different market sector, giving me experience of manufacturing, government, a trade organisation and education at different levels. I have had to reinvent myself as an engineer, as a dba, as a business analyst, as an IT manager, as a programmer, as a web developer, as a project manager.

    It is just a constant race to maintain current technicals skills in order to stand still in the job market, and employers are always reluctant to pay for training.

    Having seen all the job losses due to off-shoring, through the influx of overseas IT workers, I now anticipate further job losses through outsourcing or off-shoring as a consequence of cloud based computing.

    Remind me, what is so attractive about working in IT anyway? Is it the fortune and glory? The long and anti-social hours? The satisfaction of seeing that you are making a difference? Nope, can't think why I would want my kids to choose a career in IT.
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  • vince
    the government should be focusing on this issue, if teachers of IT are not capable of producing high quality students, then the teachers should update their data on IT or let new professors more adept at IT into the game. writes professional resumes and will help you get the IT teaching job you want and help the IT industry by producing good IT professionals.
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