The millennium and the single currency will take some getting used to. By Roger Trapp
The brouhaha building up within the information technology community about the twin demands of the "Year 2000 problem" and the planned introduction of European Monetary Union has highlighted the need for computer programmers.

But, according to recently published research, there would be inadequate IT skills available even if a substantial proportion of suitably qualified people were not potentially committed to adjusting computers to take account of the fact that their double-digit dates will lead to them not working after the end of the century and, in the financial services industry, combining that with the changes needed to accommodate the single currency. One of the problems is that general managers are still lacking in confidence when it comes to IT issues. Accordingly, on the back of the report commissioned by the West London Training and Enterprise Council in 1993, the IT Skills Forum was set up a year later as an independent, not-for-profit association operating on a nationwide basis.

Among the 60-plus organisations that signed up at the outset are Barclays Bank, BAA, Grand Metropolitan, the Post Office and the Royal College of Music as well as such IT equipment suppliers as ICL and NEC. Since then, the likes of Hewlett-Packard, the London Borough of Greenwich, London Underground, Royal Insurance and Whitbread have joined them. The priorities of the organisation are to transform business performance through effective IT, by focusing on decision-makers; managing skills to optimise the use of IT; improving learning on the job, focusing IT on the right problems and overcoming

"technofear". Work on the first two objectives has already begun - under the names DirectIT and the TrackIT projects - and attention is being given to the third - under the LearnIT programme - this year.

According to Bill Brant, chairman of the forum, the forum "offers you a practical way of accelerating the resolution of a problem which is presently hampering the development of most, if not all, private and public-sector organisations in the UK: inadequate skills to introduce and use IT effectively to improve business performance." He adds: "Skills shortfalls are affecting staff at all levels - not just IT practitioners. They have emerged as a serious obstacle to growth."