· Generalist skills give UK a global edge, say leading CIOs
· But the UK’s world class IT industry is under threat if IT education does not provide the skills employers need
The UK’s ability to produce world-class IT professionals cannot be sustained unless more is done to overhaul IT education, says specialist IT recruiter Modis in a new report on the future of the UK IT industry.

The Modis Generation IT 2012 report is based on interviews with CIOs, MDs or equivalent-level IT professionals from 13 leading organisations, combined with quantitative research with 255 senior IT decision makers.

Demand is rising for IT professionals around the world to have both technical and business skills. For now, UK professionals are seen to be more pragmatic and adaptable than some international peers, standing the industry in good stead on the world stage, according to CIOs and IT leaders interviewed for the Modis research. But the UK’s international standing is threatened if IT education does not deliver the skills businesses need.

‘Hybrid’ IT pros are in demand

Today’s UK IT professionals need both technical and business skills to succeed. While technical skills remain important, those professionals who can demonstrate this ability alongside commercial skills are in greatest demand:
– 90% of IT leaders say that communications skills are crucial for IT leadership roles.
– Most respondents say these broader communication and business skills must sit alongside technical skills. However a surprising 30% believe a CIO can be successful without a technology background.
– There is growing demand for IT professionals who bring together strong IT skills with wider commercial acumen. In the Modis research, 45% of IT leaders said they wanted to recruit more of these ‘hybrid’™ IT professionals, compared to just 24% who were hiring subject specialists with a purely technical band of skills.

Generalist skills give UK a global edge

The adaptability of UK IT professionals has given the UK a strong standing across the international IT industry, according to CIOs interviewed for the Modis research. In addition to these industry-specific factors, the UK also benefits from exposure to a global jobs marketplace, which is easily accessible due to a beneficial time zone and one of the world’s most widely spoken languages.

Jim Albert, Managing Director, Modis says: ‘Technical specialism gives a great grounding to climb the IT career ladder, but what really places some of the best UK IT pros above international peers is communication, analytical skills and their business acumen. By tying together commercial requirements and technical feasibility, they can deliver the best business solutions. That’s where the UK really has a global edge.’

Mark Griffin, interviewed as part of the research says: “I think we’ve more generalist tendencies in the UK. We’re pragmatists; good at building relationships and producing rounded solutions. It’s quite different to countries such as Germany where there’s a great depth of single-skilled specialists, but fewer all-rounders who can also succeed in project management.”

The UK’s ability to deliver something different is also held in high regard by Andrew Halley, Development Director, Citrix: “Our biggest asset is our maverick programming vitality. Areas such as Silicon Roundabout, Silicon Fen and the M4 corridor produce such great innovation from new, small and edgy companies brought up on a diet of Robot Wars.”

Change is needed in IT education to foster world class talent

Concern is growing among other industry leaders about how the UK maintains its competitive edge, particularly through education, innovation and training. Countries like China, India, Germany, the USA and Scandinavia are widely perceived to be leading IT innovation. The need for greater links between UK education and employment are front of mind for IT professionals.

Jim Albert, Managing Director, Modis, says: “The industry can work with educational institutions, employers and the wider business community to band together to create a clear succession plan from IT hopeful to IT professional, from school to the boardroom. If the UK is to remain a global leader, a new generation of innovative, dynamic and commercially-minded IT professionals will be central to future successes.”

Nicolaj Vang Jessen, Managing Director, 2Change, suggests that the UK could still learn from its near neighbours: “In the Nordic countries people coming from university generally have good skills and the right kind of attitude “ we’re seeing plenty of young people who are both highly-skilled and highly-motivated. It may be harder in a larger country, but the UK can learn something from the links between Nordic employers and education providers.”

Andrew Halley, Development Director, Citrix also suggests the importance of a comprehensive IT education: “IT in schools does little more than teach people how to use Microsoft Office while Computer Science at university lags years behind the industry. We need to have much closer links between education and industry so that we’re providing useful skills to young people who can then hit the ground running in the industry.”