Peter Sishton, Director for Wales, e-Skills UK
We discuss with Peter the key findings to come out from the recently published e-Skills UK Technology Insights 2012 report and the challenges both business and academia face in attracting talented people to the industry.
Thanks for giving us the time to interview you Peter. Can I start by asking how you came to be Director for Wales at e-Skills UK and what your role as Director entails?
I joined e-skills UK in 2008 after a long career in the skills arena in Wales. I had previously been the Director of the NHSU in Wales, and prior to that development manager for Ufi Cymru, where I helped to establish e learning partnerships throughout Wales. I trained as a careers adviser in London before moving to Wales where I worked in a number of services in south Wales and the valleys before moving on to establish the first ever all age guidance careers service in Wales. I have a strong interest in skills and this was one of the reasons I was delighted to join e-skills UK. My main role is to engage the Welsh IT sector employers with stakeholders in FE, training providers, HE , local authorities with the Welsh government, so that the sector can grow and bring prosperity to the economy along with excellent job opportunities for the future and current workforce.
How long have e-Skills been producing the Technology Insights report? And how much time and effort does it take for your team to pull together such as extensive report?
e-skills UK has been producing Labour Market Intelligence for the IT & Telecoms sector since 2000 and in the current format of Technology Insights since 2005. The team at e-skills UK works on the report over a period of about six months, analysing available data, undertaking a survey of employers (over 200 in Wales) and working with experts in the field of employment forecasting and impact modelling. Our overall aim is to ensure the report provides the best available intelligence for decision makers – whether in business, education or government – providing robust evidence on the current and future issues facing the IT & Telecoms sector and the implications of emerging trends in a changing global environment.
Taking a look at the latest stats from the report can you summarise the importance of IT & Telecoms to the Welsh economy?
The sector contributes £1.2bn gross value added (GVA), 5% of the Welsh economy. 44,000 people – or 1 in 30 of those working in Wales – are employed in IT & Telecoms, and industry employees are nearly three times as productive as the average worker in Wales.
But more than just being an economic renewal priority sector in its own right, IT & Telecoms is at the heart of every sector. For example over one in ten (11%) of IT professionals in Wales work in Manufacturing which contributes a third of Welsh GVA – technology and the IT workforce underpins the GVA contributions of all businesses
And finally, if businesses – especially SMEs – exploited ICT fully, they could create an extra £1.5 billion GVA over the next 5 to 7 years. And if this full potential were realised, it could translate into 18,000 new jobs across many sectors and occupations.
According to the report, IT & Telecoms related skills shortages tended to be associated with Programmers/Software Developers and Web Design/Development professionals. In your opinion, how can we plug the skills gap in this area as it is forecast that through to 2020 Software Professionals in Wales show the highest forecast employment growth of all IT occupations at 1.6% per annum?
Clearly the immediate priority is attracting talented people into the industry. e-skills UK is working with employers and training providers to ensure there are Apprenticeship opportunities, both for 16 year old school-leavers and for older or more highly qualified applicants via Higher Apprenticeships. In addition, e-skills UK own ITMB degree creates nearly 400 graduates a year who have a highly sought-after blend of technical, business and interpersonal skills. In Wales it’s offered by the University of Glamorgan. e-skills UK is busy developing a Software Development degree too, which will help supply more people with that particular specialism.
For people who have had difficulty entering the job market, e-skills UK has recently piloted the Developing a Programming Pool project in Wales, with the generous support of the Welsh Government. This had a very high success rate in training people for IT jobs, and successfully placing them in positions – 76% of the first cohort found jobs. We hope to expand this further in future.
In the longer term we need to create a strong pipeline of talent. We’re doing this through CC4G, our after school clubs for girls aged 9 – 14 that keep them involved and interested in IT; and through BigAmbition Wales, our website that raises awareness of opportunities in the sector. We’re also working with employers, government and education stakeholders to improve the ICT curriculum in schools.
Since 2004, the decline in students in Wales taking A-level Computing is more than that seen across the UK (a 64% and 53% decrease in numbers respectively). Why do you think that is?
We are really not sure why the situation is more acute in Wales than elsewhere in the UK - but we’re very keen to work with the Welsh Government and educationalists to put this right. Among our initiatives is Behind the Screen, a range of new IT resources at Key Stage 4 that is specifically designed to involve, engage and challenge young people. Beyond that we want to get into the A-level space and create a pathway through education that will suit those who want to pursue Computing at HE or go into the sector, as well as those who want a broad base of technology, useful for whatever other career they choose.
Across all IT related HE courses in Wales, just 17% of acceptances are female. Is that something the industry should be worried about? And are there other industries out there which we can learn from that have better addressed this gender imbalance?
Yes, and employers are worried about it which is why they are supporting CC4G in Wales and why e-skills UK ensures its programmes are ‘female friendly’. For example, ITMB has a higher than average acceptance rate (33% of the current students are female - more than double the amount of females across all Computing degree course) and whilst that may be partly to do with the content of the course being business as well as IT, we believe it is also because of the high level of employer engagement and female role models. I don’t know about other industries that have been successful but gender imbalance is an issue across most “STEM” areas.
With outreach projects such as Technocamps and organisations like Computing at School Wales (CAS), plus predicted changes to the current Computing curriculum, do you feel confident about the future health of the IT/Computing industry in Wales?
No one organisation can fix the challenges that the sector faces currently, but I strongly believe that strong partnerships between e-skills UK, BCS Wales, IT Wales, SAW, CAS etc can only benefit the sector. The prize is huge, not just for the economy of Wales but also its citizens.