Fast tracking IT skills

How can you ensure new IT recruits have the skills to cope with complex technology projects? asks Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UKAcross the UK, employers of IT professionals are reporting the same concern: how to appeal to, recruit and develop the best new graduates in a world of global sourcing and increasingly complex business needs.
    
Graduate recruits are vital for the sector’s renewal and growth. However, employers of IT professionals face stiff competition from other sectors when it comes to recruiting the most talented new graduates into IT roles. It is not a simple case of ‘do a computing degree, go into IT’. Today’s new recruits enter IT from a wide range of technical and non-technical disciplines – around half of those entering IT have a non-computing degree – and many other sectors are also targeting the best of these.

Attracting talent
Anecdotal evidence suggests that talented candidates are attracted by opportunities that offer them a sense of future. This includes, among other things, a clear development plan and career path.
    
High quality and relevant professional training is not just important for attracting the best candidates to your organisation – it is essential for the future of the business. Effective professional development helps employers of IT professionals address the business impact of two major trends currently transforming the UK’s IT profession.
    
Firstly, the global sourcing of IT services and changing business needs mean that many traditional and entry-level IT jobs are no longer performed in the UK. Secondly, as a result of this, UK employers across the public and private sectors need IT staff who can enter or progress rapidly into higher value roles. Such roles require highly skilled, multi-disciplinary technology professionals who can work at the heart of the organisation.

Advanced skills
Advanced technical competence is essential for these roles, but they also require an ability to manage complex projects and budgets and the interpersonal skills to work with colleagues, customers and suppliers. This is particularly important when new technology is being commissioned or introduced. For many people in an organisation, change can be challenging, and IT professionals have an important role to play in supporting their non-technical colleagues through IT-enabled change.
    
New recruits to IT need to be able to progress to these more demanding roles faster than ever before – often without being able to pass through the entry-level roles where they could build their experience. In effect, they have to climb a ladder from which the bottom rungs are missing.
    
This has far-reaching development implications for employers of IT professionals. A sector-wide challenge needs a sector-wide solution.
    
This is where e-skills UK comes in. Our role is to unite employers with each other and with education and government to create innovative programmes that benefit the whole sector. Together we have established a national standard for the skills, knowledge and experience that should be expected of a competent IT professional. We have created a development programme to help new graduates achieve this standard: the e-skills Professional Programme.

Accelerating skills
The e-skills Professional Programme is a flexible, fast-track development scheme that accelerates the business contribution of IT professionals in the early years of their careers. It has been created by employers for employers, to help companies of all sizes and across all sectors offer industry-recognised, high quality development to their new IT recruits.
    
In other words, the programme aims to help graduates ‘jump’ across the missing lower levels of the career ladder.
    
All learning in the e-skills Professional Programme is at post-graduate level and can lead to a Masters (MSc) degree for participants who complete all three levels of the programme.
    
What makes the e-skills Professional Programme special? Uniquely, it offers content designed by employers for employers. It is delivered by partner universities, employers and training providers and can be integrated with existing employer training programmes: all contributing towards the same, recognised qualification.
    
The programme’s flexible structure includes e-learning, face-to-face tuition and on-the-job learning. This makes for a rich and vibrant learning experience, maximising training opportunities while minimising the time spent away from work. It enables employees to start using their new skills as soon as they acquire them, and encourages them to mix with peers from other companies.
    
The programme comprises three levels: the Foundation level (Post Graduate Certificate: PG Cert), the Specialist level (Post Graduate Diploma: PG Dip) and Masters (MSc). Places are now available for the Foundation level, with launch partners Lancaster University Business School and The Open University.
    
Graduates completing the Foundation level will come away with valuable skills and knowledge that can be applied directly to the business.
    
They will be better able to assess the contribution technology can make to achieving business goals. They will know how to be an active part of an IT project team, with effective leadership and interpersonal skills including team working, critical analysis, problem solving and creative thinking. They will understand the process of designing, developing and testing technology-based business solutions that deliver measurable business benefits.
    
In addition, they will be able to appreciate the dynamics of business change and support the planning and implementation of IT-led business change strategies. They will have the skills to identify potential obstacles or opportunities in the business case for an IT project; and be able to undertake key project roles and new responsibilities with confidence based on sound knowledge and understanding.
    
Such skills and knowledge will make a real difference to business productivity and success.

Public sector IT
Making the most of technology is as important to the public sector as it is to the private sector. Since 2005 the Transformational Government agenda has focused on improving the way government operates through the better use of technology. For many public sector heads of IT this has translated into the implementation of new, often complex technology projects to meet challenging business goals, and then supporting staff through the resulting change. All while ensuring that the delivery of services remains seamless regardless of what is happening.
    
This can place heavy demands on the skills and experience of new graduate recruits.
    
Through initiatives such as the e-skills Professional Programme, employers of all sizes can help new recruits develop the skills they need to progress quickly to more demanding roles, while offering them a nationally recognised, sector endorsed university qualification that will boost their long term career prospects.

e-skills UK is the sector skills council for business and information technology

For more information
E-mail: professionalprogramme@e-skills.com