Developing the IT leaders of tomorrow

10 Sep 2009 View Comments
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Leadership-logoThe UK faces an increasing threat of having insufficient skilled IT leaders to take the technology profession forward, according to a growing number of industry experts.

The wave of redundancies prompted by the recession, the growth in outsourcing and technology changes have created a potential time bomb as traditional career paths to IT management disappear.

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For these reasons, Computing is launching Tomorrow’s IT Leaders, a campaign aimed at analysing the impact of these changes and providing a career roadmap for aspiring IT managers.

Recent research confirms the scale of the skills challenge faced by the IT profession:

  • Unemployment rates in IT in the first three months of 2009 reached 4.8 per cent, the highest since the first quarter of 2004, according to IT sector skills council e-Skills UK.
  • User group The Corporate IT Forum (Tif) said its blue-chip members have reported a 25 per cent decline in permanent IT staffing levels over the past two years.
  • Some 3,600 IT jobs have been outsourced in 2009, according to Nelson Hall, the research agency for the National Outsourcing Association (NOA).
  • More than half (54 per cent) of IT staff do not feel there is sufficient scope for progression in their careers, according to a survey by recruitment company Hays Information Technology.
  • According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 14 per cent of computer science students who graduated in 2008 are still unemployed ­ a higher proportion than any other discipline.

The NOA also predicts a new wave of IT offshoring in 2010, with growth of 10 per cent forecast as application development activity picks up and firms find they now have insufficient in-house skills. This will mean an additional £250m of work and 7,700 IT jobs outsourced next year. This will happen even though firms maintain that access to knowledge is the main driver for outsourcing, with 59 per cent of IT leaders surveyed by The IT Job Board saying outsourcing offers skills they do not have in-house.

Anecdotal evidence also highlights the emerging IT leadership skills gap. One IT leader told Tif that his firm expects “dramatic cuts” in its 750-strong IT department through the outsourcing of large parts of its IT operations. Another Tif member expects 30 full-time staff to go and plans to outsource people from 2010, which will mean further reductions. Another has shed 150 IT staff, about 50 per cent of the department.

Overall, some 140,000 new IT staff will be needed annually until 2012 to fill high-level positions in UK organisations, according to e-Skills UK. But that scale of new entrants is simply not appearing.

“I am not convinced that there is sufficient throughput of IT professionals with the rounded skill sets needed to operate in high-level positions to meet this demand,” said Sam Gordon, director of recruitment firm Harvey Nash’s chief information officer (CIO) practice.

Computing’s campaign aims to identify the key skills required by tomorrow’s IT leaders and help today’s IT staff to map the personal and career development path they need to reach the top of their profession.

“The health of the UK economy depends on the ability of IT professionals and the CIOs of the future to derive business benefit from technology,” said Karen Price, e-Skills UK chief executive.

“To build such a skills pool, we need to understand the impact of trends such as global labour sourcing and the UK’s growing demand for high-level multi-disciplinary skills.”

As businesses struggle to survive during the recession, the lack of training has become a major concern, said technology expert Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital.

“There will always be demand for IT workers, so up-to-date training is essential, not only for those just entering the workforce but also IT veterans who must refresh repeatedly their knowledge base as technology evolves,” he said.

Tomorrow’s IT Leaders will also investigate how the current crop of top IT directors are going about ensuring that their organisations possess the internal expertise needed to thrive after the recession.

One example is British Airways, which has managed to continue focusing on the development of its future IT leaders even after a 30 per cent budget cut.

“Ensuring that businesses, government and voluntary sectors all have leaders who understand how technology is changing the world and what IT can do is vital for all our futures,” said BA CIO Paul Coby.

“Smart leadership of IT is the UK’s ticket out of this recession into a prosperous and tech-savvy future.”

Today’s IT leaders back Tomorrow’s IT Leaders

“Understanding of how IT can improve efficiency must be implemented throughout companies. Evidence of such leadership in UK firms will help bring us out of this downturn and in shape to tackle the tough challenges ahead.”
Catherine Doran, director of corporate development at Network Rail and 2008 winner of Computing’s IT Leader of the Year award

“We need to do more as a country to develop future managers and also as a CIO community in terms of self-promotion in leadership. But there are only a small number of people out there who really are leaders.”
Martin Wyke, chief technology and information officer, Virgin Media

“There is a huge opportunity to get people excited about how IT can enable business to be more competitive, but we need the right communication and education programmes.”
Ben Wishart, chief information officer, Whitbread Group

“Technical skills will change, but the commercial and interpersonal skills of IT leaders will always be critical, which is why the discussion on leadership is so important.”
Jane Kimberlin, IT director, Domino’s Pizza

“You see people who are product experts but do not have anything else. That is why businesses should look at their talent pools and have clear progression plans to ensure human capital is developed properly.”
Mark Vickery, group IS and change director, Premier Foods

Also online this week as part of our campaign:

  • Watch part one and part two of our video interview with BA CIO Paul Coby discussing the skills needed to develop tomorrow’s IT leaders.
  • Listen to podcast interviews with Whitbread CIO Ben Wishart and Robin Young, former retail CIO at financial services giant Citibank.

Tell us what you think about the challenges of developing tomorrow’s IT leaders via our campaign microsite.

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