Developing the IT leaders of tomorrow might not seem a priority for many firms during a recession. But for British Airways (BA), one of those worst hit by the downturn, the nurturing of senior IT executives remains a priority.
The airline restructured its business and slashed its IT budget by 30 per cent this year. Some of the company’s 600-strong IT department contributed by volunteering for unpaid work or leave, saving £2.2m towards the overall cost-cut target, said BA chief information officer Paul Coby.
“We are very challenged in terms of saving costs and like many companies, we have reduced the external spend on training, but we have also focused on internal capabilities,” he told Computing.
To support the internal training programme in areas such as project management and architecture, the role of master practitioner was created to form communities that disseminate professional skills.
“We are using our internal skills to upskill everyone else, which is really motivating, as it also recognises the talent that we have,” said Coby.
“People may not be fantastic at teaching, but they know what they are doing and can relate to the real world. It is not terribly slick and polished but it’s certainly very practical,” he said.
As part of the restructuring of the IT function, four senior posts were created reporting directly to Coby dubbed technology and services partners, who work closely with business departments and help set future priorities.
“We have to save every penny, so getting priorities right and staying very close to the business is absolutely key,” said Coby.
Unlike some companies, BA is continuing its IT graduate programme and will hire 15 new staff this year. It will also work with the Open University on the development of a masters degree combining experience in IT with academic training.
“We have to recognise that we have a crisis in IT in this country, and given how important technology is to the competitiveness of the UK, this is a really serious matter,” said Coby, who also sits on the co-ordination board of IT skills council e-Skills UK.
“Young people don’t think IT is much fun and we have to fix that. Training is not very good or inspiring and the university courses are far too theoretical and not practically focused. We need to develop real models and show that IT is actually interesting.”