UK software faces a brain drain

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UK software faces a brain drain

A new report calls for urgent action to reverse a drop in the number of
computer science graduates and the migration of jobs overseas.

A new report warns that UK software development could decline like manufacturing unless urgent steps are taken.

The report, “Developing The Future”, published by a working party including Lancaster University Management School and the British Computer Society, says the UK is producing fewer than 20,000 graduates a year in computer science, and that the number of applicants for such degrees has halved over the last five years.

Also, the report says that 40,000 jobs in software are moving offshore every year and that the loss of skills is being exacerbated by the retirement of the first big generation of software developers.

The potential scale of the problem is indicated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which recently revised estimates to pin the value of software to the economy at £20bn. Some observers believe the number should be revised upwards again because it does not include those working in the commercial software industry.

“For the UK to become a creative hub there’s a responsibility for the government to act, whether it’s through taxation [change] or taking steps to protect software intellectual property,” said Matthew Bishop, senior director of Microsoft’s Developer Platform Group. “We have to look at how to encourage the venture-capital community to invest in early-market activities; and academics must create new courses that blend business with technology skills.”

Edward Truch of Lancaster University, a pioneering institution in degrees combining those skills, said that most course applicants are from overseas.

The report concludes that the UK software industry needs almost 150,000 new entrants every year. One possible source of skilled staff, however, could be older software experts – often rejected by employers - returning to the fold.

Anti-ageism lobby group the Age Partnership Group (AGP) last week told the IT and telecoms industries to prepare for new age discrimination laws that take effect on 1 October. The group launched its Be Ready campaign to change what it said was a negative attitude towards the legislation.

New figures suggest that only 27 percent of employers expect the new rules to improve their choice of candidates. However, firms that do not embrace the new law could be liable to heavy penalties, the AGP said.

Separately, QA InterQuad has launched new courses to help technology professionals gain management skills.

QA InterQuad managing director John Kauffman said 80 percent of its customers believe there is a lack of business skills in the technology industry.

“Companies often focus on technical capability, without considering whether these skills are supported by management and personal development expertise,” Kauffman added.
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