How to get a career in IT

Career choices for work in the world of technology

Career choices for work in the world of technology

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Here’s the latest IT Matters article from Isle of Man based Steve Burrows.

In a previous article I lamented the apparent conundrum of IT employment - lots of employers claim they can’t get the IT staff they need, whilst 30 per cent of computing graduates don’t wind up in IT jobs and nearly half the potential IT workforce, women, have opted out.

In that article I referred to the Shadbolt Report studying these issues, to be published later this year.

The Shadbolt Review of Computer Sciences Degree Accreditation and Graduate Employability has just been published, and whilst the report identifies many and complex factors in striving to understand the conundrum of Computing and IT graduate under-employment whilst employers are allegedly crying out for people with IT skills, it also puts some hard and unpalatable facts on the table, and provides a recipe for success in finding IT employment.

As I speculated previously, Professor Shadbolt has concluded that black and minority ethnicity graduates are disadvantaged, they are basically almost twice as likely to fail to get a graduate level job in IT as their White counterparts. Ouch.

Also we learn that female graduates are significantly less well paid than males and the percentage of females undertaking computing degrees has fallen by around a third from 20 per cent to 13 per cent over the past 15 years.

This is a component of the two-fifths fall in computing students - last year there were 23,000 students vs 41,000 in 2002.

Who can say whether there’s a connection, but female participation in other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects has remained steady at over 30 per cent so the large drop in women coming forward for computing degrees is anomalous - perhaps the pay discrimination in computing and the lower participation of females are connected.

Irrespective of the gender issue the large fall in computing students is a major concern and one can only assume that youngsters choosing their degree courses are perceiving computing as an unattractive profession. The discrimination theme seems to continue through the profession, with mature computing students also seeing poorer employability in their chosen field when compared with their peers on other STEM disciplines.

This is obviously disappointing, and it’s worth noting that of course a large proportion of computing hires are made by older more senior computing professionals - IT managers etc.

On the upside, the Shadbolt Report provides some very interesting statistics for those wishing to enter the computing profession. Obviously being a young white male is an indicator of success potential, but other factors seem to have a much greater influence.

Firstly, and a surprise to me, the employment success rate of those students who do ‘sandwich’ degrees which include a year of practical work experience is very dramatically higher.

Doing a sandwich degree in computing appears to reduce post-graduate unemployment to less than half the unemployment rate for non-sandwich degrees.

Doing a longer sandwich degree with an integrated Masters qualification delivers a further incremental improvement in employability, but the sandwich course is clearly a killer recipe for those wanting to enter the computing profession.

As part of its evidence gathering the Shadbolt Review surveyed employers about the skills they desired to see. Unsurprisingly technical skills in computing, programming languages and development methods, featured most highly. However ‘soft skills’, particularly communication, and project management were really not far behind.

The ideal graduate will clearly have a balance of technical, interpersonal / communication and work / project management skills rather than being an out and out propellerhead.

Those students looking to choose their ideal computing course are clearly best off ensuring that the curriculum includes communication skills such as report writing and presentations, and project management skills in order to maximise post-graduation employability. Established technicians should be looking to add the communication and project management components to their existing skills portfolios in order to progress.

Not all university degrees are equal - I guess we all know that instinctively but those outside the computing profession might assume that there is relatively little to choose between one computing degree and another; not so.

Computing is studied at 95 of the 130 higher education institutions in England, and there are over 2,000 different courses / curricula available. The Shadbolt Report finds that post-graduation employment rate for those institutions with high average UCAS Tariff rates is markedly better, more than twice as good, as for those with low UCAS Tariffs.

Institutions are far from equal and it clearly pays the student to be selective as to where they study.

Similarly, choice of course matters, and the Shadbolt Review suggests that those courses specifically accredited by the British Computer Society or the Institute for Engineering and Technology are to be preferred.

University rankings for computer science are easily found online and it is clear that, looking locally, studying computing at Manchester, Glasgow, Lancaster or Leeds Universities is much preferable to Liverpool John Moores, Manchester Metropolitan, Bradford or Chester.

In these days when many students have to pay significant fees for their university tuition it’s clearly beneficial to be choosy.

It’s worth noting that the vast majority of BME graduates have studied at the institutions with low UCAS Tariffs meaning that their apparent lack of employability in computing may be simply down to poor choice of institution.

A last note on employability - women, perhaps unsurprisingly given their scarcity in the profession, are marginally more likely to gain employment than men - although as noted earlier their pay may be inferior.

Having successfully graduated with a computing degree, a decent job to start paying back those student loans is probably on the agenda. An incredible 26 percent of computing graduates from English institutions are swallowed up by London employers, with a further 20 per cent taken by the rest of the South-East of England. The remaining 54 per cent of computing graduates are scattered pretty evenly across the UK.

Two very strong lessons here - if you want to get a job in computing be prepared to work in the London and the South-East of England, and if you are a regional employer in Manchester, Leeds or the Isle of Man you had better offer London salaries if you want the pick of the crop.

A further employment statistic from the report, 43 per cent of computing graduates go to work in the information and communication industries; the broad spectrum of the rest of British Industry has to fight over the remaining 53 per cent. The finance and insurance sectors manage to grab eight percent of the output, as do the professions. Wholesale and retail trade absorb nine per cent, and Manufacturing takes seven percent.

For those wanting to enter the computing profession the Shadbolt Report clearly provides useful guidance; do a sandwich degree from a reputable university with good scores for Computing, making sure your course is accredited by the BCS or the IET and includes business communication and project management modules, and look for a sandwich work placement in the ICT sector in the bottom right hand of England. Follow these simple rules and early lucrative employment is pretty much guaranteed. Don’t bother with a third-rate computing course.

For employers seeking new computing graduates the lessons are similarly stark - you’re competing with London and the South-East, you need to provide jobs which are both financially and technically rewarding, and computing graduates are not limited to computing work so computing roles offered must be as attractive as other premium jobs. Only 70 per cent of computing graduates end up working in jobs requiring computing degrees despite the claimed demand from employers.

Finally, the report notes that ‘A UKCES Sector Insights report predicts that by 2022 some 518,000 additional workers will be needed to fill the roles available for the three highest skilled occupational groups in the digital arena. This is three times the number of Computer Sciences graduates produced in the past 10 years. Many employers talk of on-going skills shortages in these digital professions.’

Clearly the future is very bright for computing graduates, employers looking to hire digital talent will be facing a seller’s market for many years to come and will need to adjust their recruiting behaviours if they hope to fill these roles.

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