UK faces "catastrophic" IT skills gap

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The UK faces an IT skills gap in the workforce that will damage its global competitiveness within 10 years if not addressed, according to a major new study.

E-skills UK, the Sector Skills Council for IT, telecoms and contact centres, found that 76% of companies with hard-to fill IT professional job vacancies have delayed development of new products and services and 42% had suffered an increase in their operating costs.

More than a quarter - 26% - of UK businesses were suffering from a lack of everyday IT user skills within their organisations, with 44% of companies reporting their staff were not proficient in using basic word-processing applications.

The report IT Insights - Trends and UK Skills Implications states that the gap between the current skill levels of the UK workforce and the demands that forecast trends will place on businesses is one of the greatest threats to UK competitiveness.

Karen Price, e-skills UK CEO, said: "The survey clearly demonstrates that the UK will not be competitive in the global economy in 10 years time if we continue with the level and type of skills being relied on by business today.

"There is a tendency to dismiss the subject of skills as a 'soft issue' with no real impact on the economy. To do so in this case would lead to catastrophic damage of the UK economy.

"IT intensive industries generate 45 per cent of the UK's Gross Value Added (equivalent to £30bn GVA) - driving new markets and productivity… 'IT Insights' tells us that at present we have neither the everyday IT user skills, nor the IT professional skills within our businesses to avoid an economic crisis."

E-skills UK will present the report findings to Secretary of State for Education, Charles Clarke, and 30 of the UK's university vice-chancellors this week to discuss the implications for the university sector.

Price added that the educational infrastructure needed to meet future skill requirements was not yet in place.

"Employers, employees, national and regional government, unions and educators need to collaborate on an unprecedented scale to meet this challenge - to ensure the skills the UK needs are the skills the UK gets," she said. "E-skills UK will work with employers to drive action from the employer perspective."

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