Many of the UK's biggest organisations are struggling to fill IT vacancies because candidates lack the required skills. In a move that should eventually help to address this problem, Education Secretary Michael Gove plans to replace the current ICT curriculum with one focused on computer science and programming.
Gove's initiative has received a mostly positive response from industry, but some experts believe it will take more than a curriculum overhaul to avert another skills crisis.
Speaking at a recent roundtable event organised by The IT Job Board, Kieron Drake, CTO of strategy and architecture at oil giant BP, welcomed the proposed shakeup in IT education but said he believes that the government's main role should be to make sure students are not deterred from an IT career.
The changes would go some way to encourage more young people into the industry, he said, but he expressed concern that the government may encounter problems in putting together a comprehensive ICT curriculum.
"Part of the problem is that software development and computer science are two different subjects that ought to have their own syllabuses. These are two very different skill sets," he said. "A computer science qualification wouldn't be a pre-requisite for a career in software development."
Head of BBC Centre of Technology, Andy Wilson, also welcomed Gove's announcement, which he predicted would in time boost the supply of highly skilled graduate developers.
However, Karen Price, CEO of e-Skills UK, the skills council for business and IT, said that another key role for the government is to ensure that there is continuing professional development of teachers.
"If there is a new curriculum we are going to have to tackle the issue of how to transition the current teaching workforce. Government investment in training is important and there are certainly many groups lobbying to get that mentioned in this year's Budget," she said.
But as Capgemini's global SAP lead, Wayne Carstensen, points out, it could take up to 12 years for these changes to have an impact on industry.
"The government should back other initiatives for the time being," he said.
As well as changing the curriculum, the government has to get the message out to young people that ICT is a subject worth studying.
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) report "Skills Shortages in the ICT Workplace", published in October 2011, found that the number of people studying for IT-related qualifications has fallen off a cliff.
The number of UCAS undergraduate applicants for computer courses fell by 10,568 between 2001 and 2010, while the number of 16-year-olds sitting GCSE exams in ICT fell by 17 per cent in the year 2010 to 2011, to 61,022 students.
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