THE WORLD ACCORDING TO IT
When it comes to a career in IT, can you separate fact from fiction? Hannah Davies explores some of the myths about this often-misunderstood sector.
There’s no escaping IT. 21 million people in the UK use IT (Information Technology) in their daily work. Every time you check your emails, use a cash machine, or send a text message, you are using technology developed by IT workers. What’s more, employment prospects are bright: one in twenty UK workers IS employed in this industry, according to e-skills UK, and over the next five years 140,000 new IT and Telecoms professionals per year will be required. As Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK says: ‘In today’s increasingly fast-moving global business environment, IT and Telecoms provides the engine of future growth and the key to increasing productivity and competitiveness.’
So why aren’t graduates queuing up to join this dynamic industry? Applications to IT-related degrees have fallen by 50 per cent since 2003, according to e-skills, and some IT employers are reportedly having difficulty filling vacancies. It seems the IT industry is suffering from an image problem when it comes to graduate recruitment.
Myth 1: IT is boring
This is the industry that produced iPods, Lara Croft, and the Internet. What’s boring about all that? IT products are limited only by imagination – and that also applies to career progression within the sector. ‘An IT career can be whatever you want it to be,’ says Roy Shepherd, Development and Support Manager at the British Computer Society (BCS). ‘People can move wherever they want to within the industry, within reason.’ There is a staggering range of jobs available, from technical positions such as software developer and support engineer to marketing, sales, and business roles. Somebody who starts off as a systems tester can ultimately progress to a management position. In this industry, your career doesn’t have to stand still. What’s more, you don’t even necessarily have to work for an IT company: 55 per cent of IT professionals work in other sectors, according to e-skills; you could find yourself moving into finance, media, or education, to name just a few possibilities.
Myth 2: You must have a technology-based degree
Not necessarily. ‘For some posts, organisations will want Computer Science graduates who’ve done technical courses,’ says Shepherd. ‘But some companies prefer people without these degrees, as it means new employees have no baggage or bad practice to unlearn.’ Indeed, 55 per cent of those entering the IT industry do not have Computing degrees, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Alison Allden, Chair of the BCS Education and Training Forum, points out that graduates from all disciplines can bring something to the table: ‘If you are a non-Computer Science graduate, often employers are interested in the other pertinent skills you can bring, such as business and analytical skills.’ She recommends that non-Computing graduates visit their careers services before making applications, in order to identify those areas of their CVs that demonstrate relevant skills. Research is key. ‘Do a 360 around what IT as a profession can offer, and fit your application into that context,’ says Allden.
Myth 3: IT is for geeks
IT companies are looking for dynamic individuals. Apart from the most technical roles, many IT positions are customer-facing – whether that means talking to the public, or dealing with a multinational corporate client. People skills are essential. ‘Companies are looking for people who can work on teams and innovate, and who have networking and interpersonal skills,’ explains Shepherd.
Myth 4: IT means working in London for a big corporation
The industry is currently concentrated around London and the South East, and is dominated by a few large employers, who account for over 20 per cent of IT employees, according to e-skills. But that’s not the whole picture. Almost 60 per cent of IT firms are located outside the South East, and the sector encompasses a larger number of freelancers and small businesses than most other industries.
Myth 5: IT is a male-dominated industry
Sadly, this is not really a myth at the moment. Recent figures from e-skills show that just 18 per cent of the IT workforce is female. What is a myth, however, is the idea that only men can succeed in the IT environment – take a look at our case studies for examples of female graduates successfully making their way to the top, and in our feature, The IT Girl, we meet someone who is already there. Organisations such as Women in Technology and Women in Games are working to attract more female graduates to the industry and to challenge stereotypes, so this really could be a myth in the future.