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Industry Input Crucial to End IT Skills Shortage

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IT companies and universities must work together to stem computer skills shortages, according to the head of Microsoft Academia in the UK.

Dr Stuart Neilson Marsh said that the dwindling popularity of computer science courses, coupled with the fact that some universities were producing graduates with out-of-date skills skills meant that higher education needed to forge more industry links.

"A lot of companies complain that they recruit graduates from their local university, but they are coming out with IT knowledge that is five to 20 years out of date.

"We (Microsoft) engage with universities to help them understand what Microsoft is doing. Industry liaison is absolutely crucial if computer science is to succeed long term."

Dr Neilson March said that this skills shortage was particularly felt among SMEs.

"For a company like Microsoft it is not too difficult for us to take graduates and train them and give them real world experience.

"The challenge for a lot of smaller companies is that recruitment is such a significant cost, they don't necessarily have the time and money to spend a lot of time training, they need people with good, relevant skills."

He believes that the fact that some computer science courses are out-of-date may be a factor in dwindling enrolment numbers.

"There's been a marked decrease (in computer science student numbers) over the last three to five years. There are a lot more computer-related fields today that people look at and think are more vocational and have better employment prospects."

Dr Neilson March said that in the last 18 months universities had started to forge stronger links with industry in a bid to make computer science courses more vocational.

He said that for many young people may opt for on-the-job training rather than a university education.

"A degree is not a pre-requisite for a successful IT career. If you look through Microsoft, many of our most senior people have actually never been to university. However I do think that the opportunity to do vocational skills training whilst in a job is important."

He added that demand would be strong for skills in databasing, the Internet and mobile and wireless communications over the next five to 10 years.


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