Offshoring to blame for IT skills gap: Ernst & Young

The IT skills shortage in Britain is largely attributable to the decision by many large organisations to offshore their technology operations to India in the mid-90s, according to professional services firm Ernst & Young.

Speaking at a breakfast briefing on the reality of cyber threats for the UK, Mark Brown, director of information at Ernst & Young said that in 1998, there were 32,000 graduates per year in UK universities attending courses that were core to entering IT professions – such as maths, physics, computing engineering.

By the year 2000, that number had dropped to just under 8,000 – a 70 percent decrease. During the same period of time, the increase in India was “thousands of percent per year,” according to Brown.

“The uplift in the number of Indian and sub-continental Asian graduates into information security since the mid-90s has a direct link to the activities of UK industries since the mid-1990s – it's called offshoring,” he said.

“We've created a skills gap by the very nature of business processing, and we will probably take a generation to fill that skills gap. We have to look at how we address what we're teaching our kids at school today.”

Ernst and Young's latest Global Information Security Survey found that the lack of specialist skills is the main reason why organisations are investing in stop-gap security solutions instead of tackling the issues associated with the overall threat.

Encouraging the workforce of the future to seek a career in IT and information security is key to a sustainable solution, according to Brown.

However, the news is not all doom and gloom. Brown said that the IT security industry has never been in a better position than it is today. Cyber security is in the news every day of the week, and the profession is growing and will continue to grow year on year.

“There is obviously a career for people to come into. It's how we change that impetus through organisations like the e-Skills Forum, through the recommendations that Chloe Smith is making for educational reform, through advancements like the Raspberry Pi being launched into schools, to teach the basics of programming again,” he said.

“Those are the necessary steps to reinforce what is an obviously growing profession.”

Ian McCaw, executive director of information security at E&Y added that, with the right skill set, the barriers to entry for getting into business – and even starting your own business – are lowering. This can be encouraged by promoting entrepreneurial culture.

“We can't stop pushing the boundary, we've got to keep innovating, we've got to keep doing more; we just have to be more smart about it,” he said.

Of course, not everyone who works in IT has an entrepreneurial streak, but McCaw said that it doesn't require everybody to be an entrepreneur. If one or two individuals are entrepreneurial, they will pull others through on the back of that.

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