The BCS has relaunched itself as the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. Computing talked to BCS chief executive David Clarke about the reasons behind the re-branding.
How important is IT to the UK?
We think not just the country’s prosperity, but our survival depends on how well we apply technology. All we have in this country is the brain power of our people - we haven’t natural resources - and IT is at the core of everything.
If we can apply the technology better than our competitors to making things or selling things, then our products will be more competitive. If we fail, we could end up being a third-world economy.
What exactly is the BCS doing and why?
What we’ve announced is a complete transformation of the BCS. We'll now be known as BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.
We already have the IT Charter anyway – it’s not as though we’ve just invented it. We’re going to change how we present ourselves, focusing on that chartered aspect.
We’re keeping BCS as an entity, but we’re using The Chartered Institute for IT as a business name. We still have the Chartered IT Professional (CITP) qualification, which we'll be pushing as a requirement for high-level IT posts in the UK.
There’s a perception that we are still the BCS from five years ago, which was a much more academically oriented organisation, and considered not to be relevant to the professions in a way which we hope to be.
So while the re-branding may seem the most obvious aspect, it's only a small part of the deal.
Why don't employers accept CITP as a professional qualification?
We've developed the Chartered IT Professional qualification, which has been in its current form since 2004. But what we really need to see, is for it to be accepted in the marketplace, and be quoted in job adverts as a requirement for senior IT jobs. What we need to see is employers saying all people past a certain skill level need to have CITP.
When we said: "Why aren’t you doing that", the reply was: "Well it doesn’t tell us enough – it’s too generic. All it says is that these people have a certain level of knowledge, and operate to a code of conduct – but it doesn’t tell us anything about their competence."
How have you addressed that problem?
The most telling thing for us, was that about 18 months ago, I had a conversation with one of IBM’s senior guys. He said: "If I’m employing someone from within IBM, I can tell from his job title his competency, so all I need to worry about is that he fits with the rest of the team on a personal level. If I employ somebody from the outside I just can’t tell their competency, so if you can do that with CITP – then you’ve got something."
So we will be assessing their competency, and there will be a register, which employers will be able to inspect to check whether the person they are thinking of employing actually has been assessed, and is entitled to hold CITP status.
We're making it really easy for people to apply for this as well, so it will be an online process. It’s nearly ready, but we are doing a bit more testing – it should be ready to roll in a week or two.
On what is CITP based?
It's all based on the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which is a very complete skills architecture and is the only one in the world, with about 94 job types in IT defined and with seven levels of complexity and experience required.
UK government has said that they’ll be using SFIA for all its IT-related work. CITP will be equivalent to level 5 in SFIA.
What about vendor certifications, aren't these more valuable to some employers than CITP?
I think CITP will be pitched at a level above that of supplier level. Ther e’s a place for vendor certifications and they will sit alongside what we will be doing. For example people being certified to, say, Microsoft Architecture level 2 – that will count for them, but what we need to get is at senior levels, not to just be a Microsoft architect, but be able to see whether the right way to go is with one vendor or another.
So there is a level where you need to be above the supplier level, and I think both CITP and vendor certifications will work very well together.
If I get CITP status, what happens in 30 years when technology will have changed radically from what we see today – will I still be a CITP?
We’ve decided – which is unique – to re-validate people holding CITP status after five years. When people are certified, there will be a date against it which will be on the record.
Successful applicants will receive a Certificate of Current Competence valid for five years, after which there will be a requirement to undertake revalidation to acquire a new certificate. We need CITP to be valid to an employer, so we have to re-validate – there’s no way round this.
What is the strategy behind the BCS re-launch?
Our role – which sounds a bit grand – is to enable the information society, and our mission, or vision if you will, will be based around five key issues.
First, there's the digital divide, then information vulnerabilities – how you manage information and secure data. Another area is to address how to deal with IT project failures. There’s also a coming IT skills shortage - despite the fact that a lot of work has gone offshore, we are heading for a real key skills shortage. Finally there’s also no really clear path for IT professionals – they have a job, but they don’t know how they are going to get to be, for example, a CIO. Those are the real challenges we'll be addressing
What about the skills shortage – how do we address that?
The first problem we have is IT education – currently it’s appalling. There needs to be an integrated approach to IT education starting at primary school all the way through to higher education.
The problem we have is the way IT is taught in schools currently means that kids get put off IT at about 12. The teaching is focused on Word, Excel and maybe PowerPoint if you are lucky.
We have another huge problem in IT at the minute with the lack of women in the field. If you talk to girls at school, they will tell you that they do not want to be a secretary, and that’s what IT looks like to them.
So there is not a view in schools that IT is a great career to go into, because it’s just not taught very well, and we don’t believe that this is given anywhere near enough weight in government.
We think IT should be taught as one of the basic skills in schools, along with reading and writing. I’m not talking about teaching hardware or software here – it’s about how IT is actually applied. It’s about getting kids enthused about it as a career. It’s the application of IT where we are not getting enough kids coming through and saying: “That’s what I want to do.”
We are going to create a new Academy of Computing which we hope will provide an integrated and coherent approach to advancing IT and computing across education, research and business.
Is CITP going to be UK-only or do you have grander plans for it?
What we’re trying to do – and I think we will succeed because there’s no competition anywhere in the world - is to make SFIA the skills architecture for IT around the world, and CITP the gold standard for IT around the world. For that to happen globally we will have to do this in partnership with other people in other countries, in what we are calling a federation approach.
So we are looking at licensing other partners to manage CITP on our behalf. We think there’s a fighting chance that this will become the global standard for IT, and that it will happen.
We are also getting positive responses from global companies on this, but they are saying that it needs to be done worldwide, we cannot do it separately with just one system that's accepted locally.
One of the ways to get CITP adopted globally is to get enough of these multinationals to accept it worldwide. I think the chartered standard has every chance of being adopted globally. People should be able to move around with a standard that’s recognised wherever they go.
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