A labouring IT industry
As someone who had a hard time breaking into IT because of the lack of training opportunities, I can certainly sympathise with Peter Kidson (Letters, 15 September) complaining about the unwillingness of firms to train new or current employees. However, he's wrong in blaming the firms for being shortsighted, as all the firms are doing is acting in their own self interest.
The lack of training, and thus the chronic shortage of skilled IT staff, is a manifestation of a phenomenon known to economists as the "Collective Action Problem". This occurs when individual actors in a group, by acting in their own rational self-interest, produce a dysfunctional outcome for the group as a whole, and thus for themselves as members - individual rationality produces collective irrationality.
In the IT industry, while it would be good for the industry as a whole to have a large pool of skilled labour, thus reducing labour costs and costs caused by structural skill shortages, it is not in the self-interest of an individual firm to spend money on training as that will put the firm at a competitive disadvantage to other firms that don't train. Put simply, firms that don't train will freeload off those that do by poaching their staff. The result: a chronic shortage of skilled staff, and high salaries for those that have the skills.
There are only two feasible long-term solutions to this problem in the industry:
1. The introduction of bonded labour, whereby the employee is forced to work for the firm for a set period and cannot leave for another employer.
2. A collective training scheme funded by levies on all firms in the industry, according to their ability to pay.
Option (1) is both illegal and immoral in a free society, and while it would encourage firms to train it would reduce labour mobility in the industry and re-create skill shortages. Option (2) used to be the government's task, that is to fund vocational training from tax revenues (remember the Community Programme?), but the State has largely withdrawn from this in order to cut public expenditure. It is, therefore, up to the industry as a whole to pull its collective finger out and set up industry-wide training bodies, funded by all firms so that none are at a disadvantage, which would both increase the labour pool, benefiting the firms, and make it easier for new employees to enter the industry, thus benefiting workers.
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On the road with BT
I think BT is having a joke at our expense (literally) calling its new ISDN service Home Highway (PC Week, 8 September). Which words go naturally with Highway? Highway Robbery; Highwayman ...
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Who pays for IT?
I've read with interest the on-going debate in your Letters pages about whether the employee or the employer should pay for technical training.
I would like to add my thoughts to the debate by making one simple point: why should IT be different?
I've worked in IT for over 10 years for companies involved in various businesses and industries including IT itself. It is widely accepted that when a company recruits a college leaver or university graduate to be an accountant, a professional engineer, a lawyer or similar, that the employer is going to have to invest money in training that person, often over several years and on a continuing basis. So why do some people think that IT/MIS professionals should be expected to put their hands in their own pockets for training, especially when professional IT training is often a lot more expensive ? Mainstream IT salaries are certainly no higher and I would argue a fresh IT recruit is truly productive far quicker than most others.
It is the lack of creditable professional bodies for IT that is the problem.
Accountancy has at least five and engineering a similar number and they are all very vocal in getting employers to train staff etc.
Yes, we in IT have the British Computer Society, but I ask you how many people do you know who are members? I am not a member and I have never met another IT professional who is. Those people I have meet, or know of, who are members are either academics or accountants. I doubt if more than 5% of the people employed in IT in UK are members.
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Time to wake up
Stuart "Lost with Explorer" Bell (Letters, 1 September) is really missing the point. The Internet is less and less of a very large database and increasingly a channel of communication. Just look at the Letters pages if you need proof.
Internet-ready desktop applications (whether Microsoft or not - and I'm no fan) enable people to post the information in the spreedsheet (or document, project plan or whatever) to other individuals or servers or Web sites.
The more I think about it the more I wonder if this letter was written to wind some of us up.
What about intranets? These are now commonplace in many organisations and use Internet technologies to share information. Wake up Mr Bell, information is of little use if you keep it to yourself.
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Paying your dues
According to John Taschek of PC Week US in the Enterprise section of PC Week, 1 September there needs to be a sanctioned, vendor-independent computer professional certification programme to provide an "IT professional" we could really count on.
We must count ourselves fortunate on this side of the pond that just such an organisation exists. In order to qualify as a member of the British Computer Society an appropriate academic qualification is required plus relevant experience over a number of years. School children and even recent graduates could not qualify for the title MBCS in the way that it is possible to achieve MCSE and other manufacturer oriented qualifications without any actual experience in the real world.
Not having had the benefit of a strong academic background I found the BCS internal examination route to membership pretty tough and I suspect that even a Computer Science graduate would find the experience requirement equally tough. For a qualification to be meaningful it is important, in my opinion, to have paid your dues - the old Apprentice, Journeyman, Master concept that took years of dedication to complete assured us of craftsmen.
The BCS and the rigorous membership rules it applies today assures us of professionals.
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