IT skills shortages and project failures are being aggravated because the industry is recruiting the wrong people, and even top technology professionals lack core skills.
The conclusion comes from Scale 21, a groundbreaking research project conducted by IT lobby group the Real Time Club.
Scale 21 is probably the most extensive analysis of aptitudes in the IT workforce since the early 1970s, and has challenged many of the stereotypes associated with careers in IT.
Assessments confirm that computer experts are enthusiasts, good at communicating new ideas and highly motivated by the idea of interacting with other people, but the findings also show that the industry lacks strong leaders and people able to deliver results.
"These early results show that the profile of the industry is seriously skewed, with too many talkers and not enough doers," said Real Time Club chairman Charles Ross, speaking at the Building Britain's Brainpower conference to discuss the findings of the research.
Ross explained that the study should act as a wake-up call for companies to rethink their recruitment policies. Recruiters need to focus on attitude not knowledge, he said, and yet too many still recruit almost exclusively on the basis of existing technical skills.
"Talent is like an iceberg: four-fifths of the bulk is below the waterline. This raises a question. How can we mine down into that part of the iceberg and find that elusive talent?" asked Sir Christopher Ball, chairman of the Talent Foundation, and chancellor of Derbyshire University. "With the right attitude you can develop any skills you like."
A comparison with a study of US IT professionals highlighted some marked differences, with Brits scoring lower 'capability' scores, particularly in arithmetic and logic.
The study also found that UK IT professionals score badly for perfectionism compared with their US counterparts.
"This is particularly worrying as the majority of people work in small teams of less than 10 people, and perfectionists are needed to ensure that IT projects meet quality standards and are rigorously engineered," said Denis Saunders, chief executive of Calibrand, which conducted the research.
The findings also challenge widely held stereotypes about the suitability of older recruits in IT jobs, and support the view that those in the 40-plus age bracket are as good as younger people in terms of the skills they possess.
Describing the report as long overdue, Philip Virgo, strategic advisor to the Institute of Management Information Systems, said: "The fact that IT professionals in the UK do not come out well compared to their US counterparts is very uncomfortable.
"There is an obsession with trying to recruit people with some claimed experience of the latest technology, instead of recruiting people for the longer term because of the aptitudes they have and then training them.
"The focus on the future workforce is proper, but we also need to focus on re-motivating those people already in the industry, especially at a time when hundreds of thousands of people have been laid off."
Ecommerce minister Douglas Alexander confirmed the government's support for the project, adding that a strong skills base in the IT industry was an important catalyst to a thriving UK economy.
"It's vital that we understand the skills that make us successful. We can't let talent go untapped," he said.
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