YOUTH unemployment is at crisis levels, yet we continue to outsource hundreds of thousands of jobs. These jobs could return to the UK and be carried out by a workforce already competent in technology. But, to do this successfully, we must change how we prepare young people for work.
The UK IT outsourcing market is worth £41bn according to recent research from the Business Services Association. The majority is in labour costs, and the roles are typically related to business services and undertaken by people aged 20 to 30.
The business case for bringing these jobs back onshore is strong. Continuing wage inflation in offshore markets and increased travel and communication costs make offshore services less economically viable. Even in newer markets like China, analysts predict that wages will equal the US by 2015. New Call Telecom, a broadband and telephone service company, last year returned from Mumbai to Burnley after cost analysis revealed it was cheaper to operate in the Lancashire town.
Rapid IT advancements have made technology part of the fabric of everything we do and every young person is a competent user of technology. In recognition of our changing society, ICT education is to be phased out and replaced by a computer science GCSE.
In the new curriculum, computer programming must be minimised. Instead, we need students who are aware of the role of information technology in business and how it is exploited – how information systems are designed, how businesses take manual processes and use technology to automate them, and how data is used, stored and managed. The instigators of the change have highlighted an excessive focus on word processing or spreadsheet applications. These skills should be taught as practical tools for use in English and maths, the subjects they support.
Many young people leaving university have little experience of the workplace and the expectations employers have of them. This means many companies need additional support staff to undertake basic tasks like project administration. But today’s school leavers can be prepared for the new business environment should the correct apprenticeship programme exist to give them the basic training they need.
We successfully take graduates and undergraduates through a foundation training programme and engage them in basic project services work, like testing software for our clients. Clients must be receptive and supportive of this approach because often these services compete with their offshore service provider. As the government already owns several organisations that send jobs offshore, it could create an economically viable scheme for service providers, training companies and enterprise organisations to recruit and develop young people to do jobs that are currently leaving the UK, or being done in the UK by temporary workers from abroad.
With the correct conditions this will create a workforce to match the price and performance capability of offshore and regenerate the UK’s business services market. Simultaneously, it will reduce growing unemployment costs and create a new generation of UK taxpayers.
Adam Ripley is chaiman of Certeco.