A government led publicity campaign to shake off the IT industry's 'nerdy' image has been called for by the UK's largest IT industry body.
Attracting new IT recruits is as important as attracting new teachers and requires the same government commitment, the Computer Software and Services Association (CSSA) said at its national conference in Brighton this week.
"Getting [the branding] right is as important as getting teachers," said CSSA director general John Higgins. "The government can play a role. It's in their interests to support a branding project. It's hard to get industry to continue to spend money on a branding."
"It is essential that children in school, in university, parents and teachers need to properly understand what the opportunities are in our industry," said Higgins. "Image is the first thing they absorb - it's important to get that right."
Higgins suggested that government could match industry contributions to a branding project to get it up and running. He added that he hopes this will be a recommendation of the national IT, communications and electronics strategy group when it presents its report on the skills issue to the UK Parliament in July.
Alan Stevens, chairman of the strategy group, said there is a skills shortfall of around 10 per cent that is taking a "huge bit" out of the UK's gross domestic product (GDP) growth.
"The image of this industry stinks, according to research among young people," said Stevens. "It is particularly unattractive to women. It has to be fixed."
"Our business is impacted negatively by the skills issue. If we are to deliver the benefits that IT can bring our customers then we have to fix this issue," he added. "You can't keep relying on poaching staff from your next door neighbour."
Finding a Richard Branson style role model for the UK IT industry might help inspire new recruits and give IT the 'cool' image it badly wants, according to Alwyn Welch, chief executive of Cap Gemini UK.
"Who is it in our industry that we could put up as a Richard Branson? We need some faces to be visible," said Welch.
Higgins said role models are needed, but while he declined to volunteer himself he said there are people in the industry that could become those role models.
"It would be nice to have a Mary Branson rather than a Richard," he added.
The best role models might be the young new entrants into the industry, rather than the wealthy middle aged executives, according to Higgins.
"If we could get 25 year olds to go back into school they would be good role models."
Technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones have given IT a more public profile, but their popularity among young people won't greatly impact the skills issue, said Higgins.
"Teaching people how to use technology is not the same as teaching about career opportunities in that industry," he said.
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