by Julian Goldsmith

Don’t miss the train

Feb 01, 20124 mins
IT Leadership

It’s no secret that the state of the UK education system is in a bit of a state, especially when it comes to preparing school leavers for the skills necessary for employment in an IT discipline.

Businesses have for a long time complained that the teaching of technology in the UK is out of step with the skills that are needed in the corporate environment here.

School leavers’ understanding of the level of IT competency required in the workplace are regarded as sub-par, compared with the standard of education in this subject overseas.

From the students’ points of view, IT is not seen as a desirable career path so much any more, with applicants to IT courses at degree level dropping off.

Education has unsurprisingly been seized upon as something to fix by the coalition government, which recently announced an overhaul in basic technology teaching.

This initiative got a mixed reaction, with some CIO’s reactions akin to this, from JLT CIO Ian Cohen.

I was amazed when I saw this. Its beyond backward, retrograde or any other words I can find for misguided not to mention moving in completely the wrong direction. I love the phrase “It is expected that older pupils will be taught to write simple code, as well as to create apps for smartphones.” Excellent !! By the time they can do that we will be well beyond Smartphones – it’ll be a bit like learning Latin ie somewhat academically challenging but of no tangible or discernable value unless you were intending to holiday in “Lat”. Is “writing code” a skill that will arm our children for the future ?? Probably only if they live in India and China.

More recently, vocational courses in schools have come under attack.

This probably says more about an impending move back to the Conservatives’ drive for teachers to concentrate on the three Rs, rather than any real attempt to bring any innovation to UK teaching or effort to make technical skills more attractive to the Facebook generation.

Against this, IT departments are starting to creak with roles incertain areas becoming harder to fill.

Internal training, either reskillingthe existing workforce or making up for the shortfall in new joiners’ knowledge once they are hired, has been suggested as an answer to this problem.

So far so bad, but as managers, CIOs will be aware of how easy it is for training to take a back seat.

At a time when budgets are being squeezed, getting approval for training packages might be academic (excuse the pun) when the infrastructure the company depends on for survival badly needs replacing.

It’s tempting to keep all hands at the pumps, when you already have gaps in your skill base, rather than have people away for training.

It takes management discipline to invest in your employees.

It also take no small amount of courage to stand up to questions from senior management peers and superiors so that budgetary approval is given to pay for training.

There is also always the risk that employees will take the training you give them and use it to get a better job somewhere else.

But, consider the consequences of not training your staff.

With a dwindling skillset, you will find it harder to support your business and enable it to compete in the market.

Employees will become disaffected and feel they are stuck in dead-end jobs, increasingly desperate to find another job with more opportunities.

Give them the training they need and morale will improve as staff feel competent and more valued by the business.

You may find that rather than skipping off to a better job at the first opportunity, staff are more inclined to stay and return the loyalty you have shown them by investing in their education.

Do you feel your training efforts are adequate to keep your team up to speed? How have you managed to persuade non-tech business leaders that the investment is worth it?

Answers below please, and don’t forget to put your name and form on the top right-hand corner.