VSJ – March 2001 – Work in Progress

Charles Ross FIAP, has a very long and distinguished career in the IT industry. He is Vice-chairman of the Real Time Club and Chairman of SCALE the 21st Century [Skills, Capabilities and Aptitudes Learning Environment for the C 21st]. This is a Foresight Associate Implementation Programme of Office of Science and Technology of the DTI. Naturally, the IAP is very interested in such research and has been holding discussions with Charles and his colleagues about how we might help. Here, Charles writes about the issues to be addressed and his approach to them.


We have delivered into the hands of the next generation the most exciting invention in the history of civilisation. The stored program computer supplements our brains – surely a unique breakthrough?

We have met this challenge by using education, training, management and government structures that were designed and developed to satisfy the needs of the industrial revolution, which was all about machines that supplemented our muscles. As computer technology is beginning to make a serious impact on virtually the whole community these traditional systems are increasingly failing to prepare the next generation for the world in which they will have to earn their livings. Very few people outside our profession fully appreciate the novelty of software systems design and implementation. Few appreciate the significance of the fact that no one has ever seen a computer program. While we are designing systems, we can draw up specifications and flow charts, list code and scan results, but a program is essentially an intellectual creation of our imaginations held in our memories…and programs need to be more than 99.9% accurate – a degree of precision never necessary before.

Our education system, selection and measurement criteria and structure of qualifications and credentials seem not to be generating the skills that this unique industry needs. Experience suggests that there is no correlation between the creative skills needed in the 21st Century and all the traditional academic measuring systems. Memorising facts to answer increasingly stylised questions with historically agreed answers, which is the essence of GCSE, “A” Level and many degree examinations, have demonstrated their value to prepare people for the traditional professions but we need new paradigms for new requirements. Throughout history, people with creative talent have gravitated to the performing and visual arts, to architecture, invention and more recently to design. These people have never been expected to conform to the traditional rituals of lawyers, doctors, accountants, managers and administrators. From the days of ancient Greece ‘artists’ have been allowed, even expected, to be eccentric.

At last the community is beginning to appreciate that conceiving, designing and implementing a significant computing system – and for that matter creating a profitable, robust and successful business out of an idea – is equally creative. What has confused the traditional educational profession and the administrators of government is that this is almost a new manifestation of creativity: intellectual creativity. The effect is that a large pool of talent is not being identified, recognised and developed to the detriment of the individuals and our economy. Similarly it has proved extremely difficult to design meaningful credentials to help match the skills that people have developed in our profession to the tasks that are needed. The problem of this shortage has been growing for some time, but it is now reaching epidemic proportions and government is realising that this IT skills deficit is beginning to be a serious brake on our national growth. The London Business School has caused consternation in Whitehall by publishing tables showing that the UK is at the bottom of the second division in every category of entrepreneurship they have been able to devise! [Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 1999 Executive Report.]

The Real Time Club is at the nexus of both these dilemmas, being some 150 entrepreneurs whose careers are in IT. They are setting up a Foresight Associate Implementation Program with the Office of Science & Technology in the DTI to begin some practical activities to address these problems.

There are colleges, universities, professional bodies and commercial trainers offering education, training, courses and skill measurement services with over 800 qualifications  – something of a maze for anyone thinking of starting a career in computing or a grandparent aspiring to help with the homework. The logical first step is to set up a portal to provide the whole community with a single source of information. Initially this may be little more than an HTML index, but the longer-term objectives are to produce comparative data and some degree of validation.

A second working party is attempting something more ambitious. How do we set about identifying the talent, recognise aptitudes and uncover the potential skills we need in IT across the whole age range? The Architects have put a lot of effort into studying this dilemma and considerable work has been done in various parts of the world in the IT arena, so the first step is to draw together every known theory, piece of experience, test and process. The plan is put together a number of ‘self-selected’ panels of people who have proved that they have the relevant skills and abilities. In addition, there will be a number of control panels, all of different age groups. They will be asked to participate in a wide range of trials to see if we can uncover any correlations.

No one believes that we will find some magic wand. We may be able to do little more than identify which potential groups are best adapted to learn from different educational and training strategies. We are well aware we may only re-discover known correlation, such as that between IQ and traditional examinations, or we may discover no relationships i.e. artistic, creative talent is indeed random. Either way we have to radically rethink our whole education and training process to meet the needs of the 21st century. While the problem is complex and sophisticated in the IT profession it is doubly difficult in the world of entrepreneurship!

Nevertheless the scale of these problems is no reason not to boldly go where no one has been before, and see if we can find indications, conceive solutions, design methods and implement processes to help the next generation maximise their potential for their own and everyone’s benefit.

If you have some ideas, thoughts or would just like to help, please email me at Charles.t.ross@btinternet.com

Interesting project or development? Let us know at eo@iap.org.uk!

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