Get training -you know IT makes sense

New technology needs more people for programming and support. Paul Gosling looks at some of the career options
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The Independent Culture
With the Year 2000 crisis and the preparation for European monetary union looming, there has never been a better, or more lucrative, time to enter the IT industry. Graduates are in high demand, with larger employers willing to put new entrants into quality training programmes.

CAP/Gemini, a leading IT consultancy, recruits 500 trainees a year, with a new intake of 75 graduates every six weeks. In order to attract this many high calibre entrants, the company operates regular regional graduate recruitment roadshows to explain more about its business operations, and provide an aptitude test for potential staff. Successful applicants, who can expect to earn pounds 18,500 in London or pounds 17,000 in the rest of the country, are then put through a six-week training programme in the company's own academy.

"It is a graduate trainee scheme, but we're not obsessed by people following the traditional entry route," says Robert Ingram, CAP/Gemini's human resources director. "Some of the entrants are slightly older, some with not such good qualifications. We do not demand the right degree in the right subject, we are much more interested in aptitude, though we still want people with first class honours degrees from Oxbridge.

"Our people come from all different backgrounds. Just over 50 per cent have IT degrees; just under 50 per cent have different kinds of degrees, such as music, history or drama. We try to help people run businesses better, and for that our staff need a really good grasp of technology, a good grasp of business, and be able to relate to people. It is applied IT. There are a lot of good jobs around this year, and a lot of good graduates to fill them."

EDS, a major IT outsourcing contractor, is looking for 700 graduates this year. "They are split into two camps," says Robert Bowler, UK recruitment manager for EDS. "Graduates with hard science degrees, IT, maths, physics etc, are going straight into our technical hardware programme. We provide a modular training programme. Some of it is fixed, a lot is based on the particular needs of the person. Some might need two months training.

"On the other side we take on a large number of arts and other non-hard science graduates, and train them up into IT skills and business analysis skills as well. We recruit all the year round, and want people with inter- personal skills, team skills, customer skills. We are very keen to recruit people from a variety of backgrounds.

"If people have worked somewhere else, for example in accountancy, and don't like it, we say `why not come in on IT with us?' We are also keen on more mature folks, and have people joining in their 30s, even 40s, and have one in their 50s."

There are vacancies across the country, says Mr Bowler, offering `market related salaries, according to skills'.

Software supplier Oracle is finding recruitment less difficult than others. Although it is taking on 150 graduates this summer, it now only has a few vacancies unfilled. Gay Brogden, recruitment director for Oracle Europe, says: "Our major recruitment areas are in consultancy. We look for at least a 2.1, ideally with a computer component - which covers most of them nowadays. We don't just want computer science people, but articulate, active learners. We can train them in the technical skills, but not the attitude and aptitude. Some of our best graduates last year had degrees in history and psychology.

"We give new entrants a two month training course to be familiar with our technology applications, databases, and an introduction into Oracle."

The Confederation of British Industries warns graduates not to expect this level of demand to continue indefinitely. "There is clear evidence of a general shortage of IT specialists," says a CBI spokeswoman. "This partly relates to the Year 2000 problem, and possibly to a lesser extent European monetary union.

"These shortages obviously provide graduates with current opportunities,but it is less clear how far these shortages will persist in the long term."

Recruitment consultants Reed Computing Personnel advise students to choose their courses carefully to obtain the best jobs on graduation. Richard Herring, its manager, says: "If you are interested in getting into programming, especially if you want a job in IT development, a formal honours computing degree is still important. It would help if it had a strong maths bias. The days when Java [programming] skills could command premium salaries are over. The Internet languages such as HTML and Java are easy to pick up. The technical skills that IT employers are looking for are centred around older, underlying languages such as C and C++, which are much harder to learn.

"For IT support roles, it is no longer necessary to have even an IT-related degree to join the industry. While a more general business in information technology degree is a help, even arts graduates are now accepted in support roles, if they are IT-literate.

"The essential quality is a good level of communication skills to understand the needs of end-users, and liaise with them to solve their problems. Paradoxically, it is easier to teach technical skills than `people' ones."

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