There is still a more profound IT skills shortage in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK, according to the IT skills body e-skills UK.
This is despite the fact that the IT industry is key to the economy, producing an estimated gross value added (GVA) per head of £51,900. This is 50 per cent more than the average across Northern Ireland's economy (£34,500).
In 2007, e-skills research found that Northern Ireland was having problems attracting recruits with the right skills in the software sector – the country's largest growth area. E-skills has tried to rectify this issue by participating in a Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) workgroup for a new development of GCE in software development.
The number of UCAS applications for computing and IT undergraduate programmes at the University of Ulster also rose from 2,193 in 2009 to 2,906 in 2011. Queen's University saw a slight decline from 1,759 in 2010 to 1,697 in 2011, but this is still an increase from 2009 when it had 1,514 applicants.
The ICT future skills progress report, released by e-skills earlier this month, also claimed that the body has made considerable progress in plugging the skills gap as part of an ICT future skills action plan that began in 2009.
The progress made by e-skills has followed in-depth research on skills. It has included advertising campaigns and tried to increase the number of students either taking IT in schools, or attending IT related events.
One area of focus for the plan is to create an interest in IT from students aged 14 or older. In 2011, e-skills decided to focus on gaining direct engagement with IT students through school visits and IT events.
The progress report outlines that more than 13,500 students benefitted from these in 2011, compared with 7,000 in 2010. Of these, 67 per cent said a prospective career in IT is more attractive after the intervention from the programme. Some 1,820 students took part in e-skills' Bring IT On workshops, which aim to get 14- to 19-year-olds interested in IT – less than the 2,000 students in 2010, but considerably more than 2009 when only 1,000 students attend.
E-skills also partnered with LSDA (Learning and Skills Development Agency) and NYSE to deliver a careers advice event for teachers during 2011.