IT Professionals Part III: Teaching techies it’s time to train

17 Aug 2004

One of the major problems for IT professionals is that there is not necessarily a correlation between what one company considers the roles and responsibilities of a particular job title and what that involves at another organisation. This has come about largely because despite the number of technology-related courses on offer via third-level education, many IT workers have had on-the-job training rather than any formal education.

The response from the Irish Computer Society (ICS), the representative body for IT professionals in Ireland, has been to introduce ICS Skills Cert, a programme that enables individuals and businesses to profile, validate and certify their job roles and skills as IT professionals.

It is based on the Skills Framework for the Information Age, developed by e-Skills UK in conjunction with a range of industry players including the British Computer Society, Cisco, IBM, Oracle, Nortel and Vodafone. The framework provides a clear classification for jobs in the IT sector and what skills are necessary to require them.

“Skills Cert is designed to allow IT professionals track a career through the industry,” says Jim Friars, chief executive of the ICS. “People need to know that education doesn’t stop at third level. You may come out of college as a techie but after five or six years you might want to progress into a more strategic role or change direction. Using the framework, professionals can chart their career path and we provide links to additional courses that they may need to achieve their goals.”

The ICS is hoping that the Skills Cert programme will be adopted by companies that will then certify their own staff according to the job roles and skills it lays out. Organisations that have already signed up include Eastern Health Shared Services, the Revenue Commissioners, Fujitsu-Services Ireland and Bank of Ireland. The sell to employers is that by employing Skills Cert they can get a clear snapshot of what skills and competencies they have in-house.

“We must have a standardised methodology for describing roles and responsibilities, because every company is different,” says Friars. “It will make career prospects clearer for people in the industry, which is more motivating for them and healthy for the industry in general. For Ireland Inc it would give a clear ability for anyone to come in and say this is the skill-set of people working in the IT industry. This is a worldwide problem and an area where Ireland can differentiate itself.”

One area that reports into the IT sector have consistently found needs improving is sales and marketing. Most recently the Government’s Enterprise Strategy Group found that Ireland needed to focus on sales and marketing to maintain its competitive advantage in the global economy.

In response to this the ICS has teamed up with the Sales Institute of Ireland for a new Certificate in Selling Skills course for salespeople in the IT industry, which will be officially launched next month. In keeping with the sector that it is selling into, the course will use e-learning tools to deliver study material, tests, instructions, assignments and general support.

While technical skills in areas such as hardware, software and networking are well catered for by the certification programmes operated by the various IT vendors, a review of postgraduate courses offered at third level shows the main focus is on wedding technical skills to the practical business skills required in industry.

With IT managers having to think strategically about how to deliver value to the business rather than just having a technically competent infrastructure, the colleges are responding with courses that support this change in thinking.

This year University College Cork (UCC) is introducing a one-year masters degree in professional information systems practices – the MBS in Business Information Systems – which is geared towards technology graduates. According to program director Audrey Dunne, the aim of the course is to add a professional practice layer on top of students’ IT competencies.

“The idea is that they can move from providing IT solutions to providing business solutions,” says Dunne. “The course is grounded in professional consultancy practice so that participants can act as internal consultants to their own businesses.”

Established in 1997 with funding from Enterprise Ireland (EI), the National Institute of Technology Management (NITM) at University College Dublin is also striving to put technology at the centre of business decision making. Its stated mission is to develop the capability of Irish-based companies to manage technology for competitive advantage to the highest international standards.

To this end it offers both an MSc and Higher Diploma in Technology Management, both of which are taught on a part-time basis and embody NITM’s belief in the firm as a learning unit.

The NITM courses are funded by EI’s Innovation Management initiative, which also funds an innovative MSc in Technology Management which is jointly offered by UCC, National University of Ireland Galway and the University of Limerick. The two-year master’s degree is a distance learning course which signed up 45 students – mostly business and IT professionals – in its first intake. They are set to graduate next December.

Some experts have questioned whether managers can bridge the gap between business and IT, or whether they will always be considered ‘techies’. Anecdotal evidence of technology graduates with MBAs going back to work in purely technical roles would seem to support that hypothesis. However, with more and more IT professionals adding business qualifications to their toolkit, these kind of prejudices look set to change.

By John Collins