VSJ – April 2002 – Sounding Board

Charles Ross introduced SCALE 21 to us just over a year ago, in March 2001. Since then, he and his team have done a huge amount of work investigating skills in the IT industry and the first pressings of the results were announced at a conference on 11 February (see Work in Progress, November 2001 and Members’ News, February 2002). Here, to mix my metaphors outrageously, are the bare bones. We’d welcome your views (on the results, not my metaphors).

The object of the project is to provide verifiable facts to inform the debate on the increasing skills shortage in IT. During the autumn of 2001 a survey was organised to try and look behind the immediate problems of the profession and its perceived needs to the underlying skills that the computing profession actually possesses, effectively reverse engineering the assessment process.

It is the largest, most comprehensive survey ever undertaken. The computing community has given solid backing to this initiative, submitting over 3000 tests and assessments. This group of busy people from across the whole spectrum of the computing profession spent an average of 45 minutes completing each test. Nearly a third of the responses were from women and 10 per cent came from ethnic minorities. Only a third of the group had degrees.

Charles Ross, Chairman of the Foresight Programme, says, “The first analysis of the raw data already highlights three fascinating results.

  1. We appear to have been recruiting people with a surprising mix of underlying personalities. The profile of the industry is now significantly different from the UK norm. In itself this may have been anticipated, but on further analysis we have:
  • Only two thirds of our share of the leaders.
  • Only half our share of the steady deliverers.
  • Twice our complement of positive enthusiasts keen to influence and advise.

If these initial findings are validated we may well have identified the source of our ‘Skills Problems’.

This looks suspiciously as if it could provide some real evidence as to why we seem to be very good at talking up ambitious projects, but poor at implementation – as so many public and private high profile disasters seem to suggest.

Should the profession give careful consideration to radically changing its recruiting policies? Should we give priority to recruiting double the number of leaders and deliverers, and halving the ranks of the enthusiasts and advisors?

  1. For the last 50 years most people have presumed that you had to be good at maths and logic to be a success in computing – indeed, mathematicians largely developed computers. However, this survey suggests that the people in the industry are not particularly strong in these areas, scoring better on analogy, classifications and pattern matching. We must ask the following questions. Either:

Have we got the right people in the industry?


Are we discouraging and turning away potentially brilliant IT experts because of this historical emphasis on mathematics?

  1. There are also serious implications for education. Apparently, one third of our profession still come into industry straight from school, almost the same proportion as have degrees.

Could this indicate that our Higher Education system is not attractive to people interested in a computing career? Does the system fail to recognise latent talent among teenagers? Is our conventional secondary education not stimulating this large group?”

Denis Saunders, CEO of Calibrand, who carried out this survey, stresses that these are the initial findings and that further analysis and more complete validation of the results will reveal far more. He says, “The survey highlights some uncomfortable facts. There is a clear case for further detailed research. Even if these data are only partially correct, there are some important strategic decisions that need to be taken and some radical new policies implemented.”

Something you’d like to get off your chest? Email me (Robin Jones) at eo@iap.org.uk.

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