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Finding a common language for IT skills – E-Skills NTO interview


Defining IT skills for training and recruitment has been a headache since information technology became commonplace at work. The SFIA, the Skills Framework for the Information Age, aims to improve the situation. Terry Watts, COO of the E-Skills NTO spoke to TrainingZONE about the framework and the creation of a common language for IT skills.


TrainingZONE Terry, how did the Skills Framework for the Information Age come about?

Terry Watts There has been a problem in and around IT for a long time with confusing job titles, sometimes as many different job titles as people, and ones which meant different things to different people. This was even true within organisations, and more so between them. It has made recruitment in IT and Telecommunications very difficult, there have been people getting one step ahead in the manual and being able to impress the recruiters! Looking through the history of this I've seen that there have been plans to tackle the problem since 1986, but we have been working with the framework over the last two years. What we have provided is a way of assessing the requirements for a position, or the skills of an individual, or the additional needs produced by a business development, and providing for these a common language and common standards to define them. This enables the matching of people to jobs, and provision to skills needs right across organisations, and it also informs wider issues of appropriate provision. It's difficult to get the balance right between detail and practicality, but we seem to be managing this well. SFIA is becoming the language of skills provision. It's a great common cause to be involved in, making sure we understand each other and speak the same language.

TrainingZONE What is the range of skills covered?

Terry Watts The framework measures everything from basic PC skills to very advanced technical responsibilities, but it also covers things like the alignment of IT with business objectives. There are two areas that it doesn't cover. One is the different technology platforms, because it concentrates on assessing the person's systems architecture skills rather than individual products. The other is context: we haven't created different versions for IT in different market sectors. But the framework is adaptable, and we would expect there to be more adaptations made here, by people wanting to develop the frameworks into different industry areas.

TrainingZONE Is it just for IT?

Terry Watts It's aimed at IT, but the skills covered include many things beyond IT that are also required skills in some IT people: project management, sales, customer care. If you like, we have designed SFIA by looking at the National Occupational Standards from a great height. With perspective we ensure that the standards we use fit the industry's notion of the world.

TrainingZONE What is the uptake like?

Terry Watts It's going well, and it's widening. Many companies have adopted the Framework, and Recently we have had involvement from management consultants who want to advise their clients to use SFIA, and also from recruitment consultants, who will be important for the future of the framework, for it to become a common standard. But more widely the advantages of SFIA for HR people are clear, it just makes sense of assessing and responding to skills needs, and this means that we have been pushing it through open doors. And there are further applications. Some applications producers are building on SFIA to create tools for training plans and organisational development, and I think that will go on and on. We have been working with Infobasis on this, in particular. And there is no direct competition for what we do. There are other assessments of IT skills, but they don't do quite what we are doing.

TrainingZONE Is it just for the UK?

Terry Watts No, there's international interest growing. We have had particular interest from Holland, South Africa, Australia, Japan and Chile. The European Commission have expressed interest. We make it available for anyone to look at, but if they are going to use it in their own applications we ask that they make contributions so that we have funds to ensure that it can keep developing, so there will be a Version 2 and 3 when necessary. And we aim to keep everyone using it connected, as well, so we can share experiences.

TrainingZONE How does it fit in with the other initiatives from the E-Skills NTO?

Terry Watts It does sit well with ESiB (E-Skills into Business), as both programmes are about defining what skills are there and what are needed and focussing economically as a result. That allows small companies, ones that may not recognise what IT can do for them, or may think they don't have the resources to make a significant investment in training, it allows them to do a training needs analysis and go forward from there.

The Graduate Apprentice programme also focuses on getting the right skills in place. It started last year, in response to the concerns from IT companies that many graduates aren't ready for employment, and haven't got the relevant IT skills in place. The Graduate Apprentice scheme helps universities to put people through a training process that will make them ready for employment, and allow companies to hire people who can get into their work straight away. We now have fifteen universities involved.


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