The UK government is back on track in its strategy to tackle IT skills shortages following a year of inaction, according to a leading architect behind the government's skills agenda.
But Alan Stevens, author of the Stevens Report, warned that initiatives to address the shortages could once again lose momentum if people believe that the economic downturn will cure the skills shortfall by itself.
The report was the fruit of an IT skills strategy group set up to advise the government on a national strategy to address the specialist skills needs of the information age. Published in November 1999, it outlined 16 recommendations.
"We did a lot of work in 1999 using money from the Department of Trade & Industry and the then Department For Education & Employment to size the problem. Then everything went very quiet," Stevens said.
"Almost a year was wasted as [the industry] wrestled with the millennium bug. But since then there's been an enormous amount of progress and there's a lot of traction to sorting out the issues," he added.
The report was a major driving force behind the decision to set up industry sector-specific skills councils, due to replace National Training Organisations next year.
The skills councils will be the main way in which employers can influence the skills agenda and forge greater links between employers and government.
"It's structurally the biggest step in the right direction and will provide a real focus for industry's energies as well as any public sector money. I would have liked things to have happened a bit earlier, but at least it's being done," Stevens said.
But he downplayed suggestions that the economic slowdown was an excuse for industry to take its eye off the ball. "The whole idea of the recommendations was to make the supply of skills sensitive to market demand and to forecast numbers. There's a bit more work to be done there," he said.
"There's a real danger we'll lose that focus, particularly in the telecoms sector. But it's a temporary blip," he added. "This a long term issue that we still need to work on. The need for scarce practitioner skills is still there."
Even greater collaboration is needed between education and training bodies and industry to tackle inconsistencies between the supply and demand of skills, Stevens said.
"The penny has dropped and ministerial support has been very positive," he explained. "It's now a matter of helping organisations and seeing where it works."
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