Your views: Why students avoid IT

Not only is it seen as a dull subject, but there simply aren't enough entry-level jobs in IT, according to IT PRO readers.

Last week, we asked in our newsletter why the number of students signing up for computer science degrees is falling. Some of the responses were a bit of a surprise especially with so many claiming it's hard to find a job. Countless surveys have suggested there's a shortage of skilled IT workers, but new grads seem to be having trouble finding work...

Why don't students like IT

Richard wrote in to say that in back in the 1970s, IT was seen as a prestigious, exciting degree which offered students the pick of top jobs. Today, things are different. "Virtually every major IT project that the public knows about has cost at least twice its budget, taken at least three times as long as its estimated timescale, is full of errors and faults, and any private or personal information it contains, doesn't just leak, it gushes. Who wants to be known as being the sort of person responsible this sort thing?"

One recently graduated BSc in Computing student said he has seen the numbers of students decrease, even just over the length of his course. "I suspect that this is because it is seen as hard. The number of students attending other degrees such a media or physical education/sport has increased because these are seen as easier options."

Yan suggested no one wants to sit in front of a computer all day. Not only is it a difficult subject for the mind, but it's tough on the body, as well. "Staring in front of a computer all day has its health hazards. On top of that fluorescent lighting adds to the radiation and it can cause hair loss in men, and in general health degeneration. After spending many years in front of a computer and not being active I really saw the difference," he said.

Many wrote in to repeat the refrain that it's simply not seen as cool. But Richard Ongley noted that it's no longer necessary to be a geek to succeed in IT. "What has changed is that one no longer needs an intimate knowledge to make the optimum use of the computer."

Loving mum Marion wrote in about her own son, an IT type who doesn't sound like much of a geek. "My son who is a web developer, with a high-earning job, a girlfriend, loads of mates, a flat in London, other interests and I would say a better life and more creative and interesting job than most of the accountants and professional services managers that I know."

But to some, it's not IT that's the problem. Kids these days simply don't like fiddling with stuff, said Shane, so they lack the basic hands-on, practical skills needed. "I grew up with electronics and computers and as a kid built some electronic circuits and had to program on early computers as there wasn't any application software to start with, and so I developed and interest in computing, and have stayed with it ever since."

Former IT lecturer Tom said another problem is that computing courses haven't kept pace with changes in the area, so school isn't the place to learn the subject. "One of the problems in academia is that many teachers are not practitioners and are behind the times. Also the software and machines available are not always of the latest."

Nigel said his own son wanted to be an IT pro just like his dad, sweet until he started his A-level course, which he said teaches such high-level IT work as how to insert Word art and be a "spreadsheet jockey."

"If my IT courses had been like that 20-odd years ago when I did them, I'd have been bored witless as well," he said. "I believe today's IT courses have lost most of their technical content and have been replaced by business studies courses which use computer applications No wonder kids hate it."

RB was one of several who said jobs are hard to find, which discourages students. "Judging from my son's experience, the reason that people avoid computing is that jobs are scarce. He has a degree in computing, and took a further qualification in network administration, and has not worked in computing since, despite endless applications."


John Coppins said this is an issue he's discussed with many people across the sector, none of whom would recommend a career in IT. "All of the simple' stuff within IT is going offshore As a result, it is increasingly less obvious how people get started in IT in this country. And if you can't get started, you are not going to climb the career ladder."

Stephen agreed that outsourcing is hurting the industry. "Programming in this country is dead. I work for Lloyds TSB which is steadily outsourcing all its programming abroad. So are all the other major employers. We only need a reduced number of IT people because the jobs just aren't going to be there."

What to do?

So how can industry and educators boost interest in the subject? Chris said we must be honest about both the upsides and the downsides of IT. "I think you have to be honest with students from the start. You have to tell them of the repetitive downside to the tasks, while also stressing the creative and challenging aspects."

Henry, a governor of a high school with City Technology status, said to boost the focus on programming. "There are now so many exciting and interesting program development tools around that I would have thought there was a lot to stir some young people with a spark of enthusiasm. But the key remains: it's what the exams require or not - that's the driver."

David wrote in with a unique perspective. "Programming is an art. I am no more a geek that the person who is deep into psychology, or any other subject. I am an artist, and the computer is my canvas. That is what should be got across to the youngsters today, and while it is very necessary, the other side of documentation and rigidity should be played down a bit."