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The great IT graduate skills challenge

A good computing-based degree is no longer enough to bag a career in IT. JoVona Taylor finds out why...

Samuel Vincent, a computer science graduate from Manchester Metropolitan University, said the skills he learned at university partially prepared him for the work he does as a software engineer at international electronics and systems firm Thales Group.

"I suppose all they're teaching you at university is to give you a solid understanding of programming, not necessarily the additional, third party tools because it is more of a theoretical thing at [while you're there]," he said.

"But, it obviously would benefit you more in a job to do more than that," he added.

Prof Lycett said universities have to strike a better balance in the skills they teach students.

"Its [about] trying to find the right kind of mix between an academic education and a vocational one, and to a degree, that's where the rub lies between academia and industry," he added.

The core principles of IT are essential for any student to learn, but universities must try to keep up with the demands of an ever-changing industry in order to mould students into professionals, he added.

Closing the IT skills gapDespite these issues, all is not lost as many IT industry watchers have proffered answers about what can be done to level the employment playing field for job-seeking graduates.

With entry- level positions in short supply, industry newcomers need to seek out alternative means of gaining experience.

Placement programmes and graduate schemes could prove to be the answer for many.

"When I left university, [it was] graduate schemes that I was trying to get on, because they are where you learn the most about the industry and about the job role that you go into," said Rosie Wiles, a forensic information technology graduate from Portsmouth University and participant in Xceed's graduate scheme.

Many organisations realise the benefits of using graduate schemes to inject some fresh blood into the UK's IT talent pool.

"The beauty, however, of recruiting graduates is that you can imbue them with your cultural DNA, which is incredibly important," said Sam Routledge, solutions director at IT reseller Softcat.

"We can train them on the technology, but we need people who fit with our [company's] values," he added

Running similar employment programmes has benefited Softcat, but not all companies have the time and financial resources needed to invest in graduate training, said Routledge.

Especially, he added, as it can take at least 18 months for graduates on these schemes to start doing billable work.

"If you see it at as a short-term investment, I could see some organisations where [this kind of initiative] would not stack up financially," he said

"We see the tech grad programme as a long term investment in the future of the technical community within Softcat, and it absolutely makes sense," he continued.

Meanwhile, Xceed's Russon said his firm's graduate scheme has been a good investment of time and money, and allowed the firm to develop its own talent pool.

"The alternative is to find people who have already got that experience elsewhere, but just because their good in an industry in one organisation doesn't mean they will be a good cultural fit for us," he said.

"Also, from a practical point of view, they'll be more expense to 'buy in' at that point," he added, because of the experience they already have.

And, while outsourcing may be a more cost effective entry-level employment solution for companies, Russon said it should not be seen as a long-term solution and must be used selectively.

"The edge the UK graduate will always have is the cultural awareness, business skills, interpersonal skills and communication," he said.

"If I wanted to put together the most cost effective Java development team, it probably wouldn't be in the UK, but I definitely want people in the UK managing the stakeholders, managing the business and watching the overall program," he continued.

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