Computing and IT
‘The strong growth of tech employment in the UK sends a clear message to anyone considering career opportunities: there are a multitude of exciting openings for you,’ says a recent report from IT industry networking body the Tech Partnership. Are you ready to unlock them?
Information technology (IT) is a term that encompasses all forms of technology used to create, store, exchange and use information in its various forms (business data, voice conversations, still images, motion pictures, multimedia presentations … the list is pretty much endless). It is a convenient ‘umbrella’ term that is often used to encompass both the telecoms and computing/IT sectors. IT is the technology that is driving what is often referred to as the ‘information revolution’. It deals with the use of computers and computer software to convert, store, protect, process, transmit and retrieve information, securely.
At the centre of everyday life and with a significant presence in almost all industries and businesses, computing and IT together provide employment for an enormous number of people. To get an idea of just some of the jobs in this sector, take a look at the accompanying ‘Typical IT jobs’ box. You could be creating technological applications or systems, solving problems using technology or supporting people who use it. IT is an important part of pretty much all industries these days, from marketing, HR and finance to retail, manufacturing and the public sector.
There is currently demand for higher-level technical skills, in particular to develop products and services to meet the needs of the fast-moving nature of the industry. This includes knowledge of the most up-to-date programming languages and systems such as cloud computing (see below to find out more).
Cyber security is a growing field that merits special attention (see page 38). Currently there are not enough experts to counteract more advanced cyber attacks. There has also been an increase in opportunities for information security officers and information risk managers, who manage threats posed to businesses. Large organisations, the government and social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, are all keen to employ cyber experts.
Employers are looking for those who can combine technical skills with an understanding of broader business objectives to be able to solve real business issues. There is also a demand for numerate and IT-literate people to work in analytics and solve business problems.
Skill up while serving
Each Service has its ‘expert’ IT staff – if that’s you, you are likely to know exactly where your particular skill set might lead. Such experts are generally found in the specialist communications, administrative and electronics branches, although some serving outside those areas may also have considerable expertise. Others will have specialised in computing and/or electronics as part of their career pattern; they are still likely to have a number of very transferable and marketable skills, but these may need to be targeted in a particular area, or improved or widened in the period before leaving.
There is a great deal of computing and IT training available through the resettlement system. Preferred suppliers and other training providers offer a wide variety of courses in this field.
Industry advice is to gain as much academic knowledge as possible while you are still serving, which can then be enhanced by practical training during your resettlement period. Knowledge can be developed through self study, and academic qualifications via a college and an industry placement nearer discharge.
Career changers will have to learn to use specific applications or languages (see below). How much formal training you need will depend on your new career path, as well as your individual experience and aptitudes. Options available range from conversion courses to work placements. Some companies recruit only those who have already been working in the industry, but most will take on new entrants. Many will take new recruits with little or no technical knowledge and offer training, provided they have other valued skills, and show they are enthusiastic and capable of learning. To increase your chances of getting a good job, you should aim to demonstrate these attributes through work experience connected to ICT (information and communication technology), or a course or qualification in an ICT- or business-related subject; and you should develop – and be able to demonstrate – skills such as communications and problem solving.
Computing and IT qualifications
Academic qualifications provide a thorough grounding in the principles that will be highly relevant for future training, although a lot of the detail will soon be out of date. There are also both generic and vendor-specific qualifications. The generic ones certify achievements in the general field of computing and IT, while vendor-specific ones demonstrate a level of expertise in a particular manufacturer’s products. Many people hold both, and even a portfolio of qualifications in the products of different manufacturers, as it is often important to be able to operate across both boundaries and equipment.
Generic qualifications include academic courses. Degrees (foundation or higher), HNDs and HNCs are all highly valued, with the theoretical knowledge involved always being relevant. Degrees tend to be in computer science, with HNDs and HNCs in software engineering. An A-level or GCSE in computer studies might be your academic starting point if you are a beginner.
NVQs (levels 1 to 5) and apprenticeships are available, based on sector-approved national occupational standards (NOS) (see below). ELC and SLC cannot be used together but, if you’re looking to use your SLC for training that is below the ELC level 3 threshold, you might want to consider such a course. Some employers may not be very familiar with these, however, so you might find other qualifications more useful. Vocational A-levels may also be taken – usually through colleges – and these can provide a job-orientated qualification with a strong academic element. The experience gained in acquiring these qualifications will be valuable in finding employment.
There are many courses available that will give you everything from a basic introduction to a doctorate.
- Short (one to five days) courses in, for example, wireless communications, IP networks, traffic engineering or managing product development provide basic information that will enhance your skills in many work environments or help you to choose a specific skills area before seeking higher levels of training. These short courses are often privately run and tailor-made, and costs vary but may typically start at around £600 for one day, £1,000 for one/two days and £1,400 for four/five days.
- Next comes a range of relatively short part-time further education courses (taking from one to three terms) resulting in recognised qualifications such as the CCNA certificate and IT User Qualification (ITQ), a nationally recognised qualification for those who need digital skills as users of technology – at work, in education and when looking for work. Also on offer are NVQs and City & Guilds courses. These generally start at about £350–£400 for one term and may require additional input of around ten hours per week for students to meet course requirements. Courses are diverse, (often) do not require previous qualifications and cover, for instance, website design, software programming, information technology, and public space surveillance (CCTV). A qualification at this level would be recognised within the telecoms and computing/IT industries, and would allow you to progress to higher-level study.
- Longer part-time or full-time courses are likely to result in, for example, BTEC diplomas (i.e. an IT and Telecoms Professional Intermediate or Advanced Apprenticeship). These courses will take one year minimum and contain an element of workplace learning. You may need up to five GCSEs to gain entry on to a course at this level; alternatively, you may need to gain other relevant qualifications (such as maths and English) alongside apprenticeship training. This level of study will ensure good progression through your chosen industry.
- More complex training includes undergraduate degrees such as: Electronics with Satellite Engineering, and Computer Science; master’s such as Telecommunication Engineering, and Computing for Commerce and Industry; and doctorates such as Intelligent Systems and Networks; and Distributed Computing. Professional doctorates are the more obvious choice for those wishing to go straight into a work environment, rather than staying in academia or research. Although entry requirements can vary and are sometimes negotiable, generally you need A-levels to take a degree, and you need a degree to progress to master’s or PhD study. Length of time to complete this level of study can vary; part-time, it could take six years or more. Typically, costs range from around £10,000 to £60,000, but at this level of study there may be funding opportunities. These qualifications would lead to management and consultancy roles.
What’s out there?
Here are a few more courses you might like to consider (although please note that this is a hugely diverse area, and job opportunities are increasing and blending into many workplaces):
- Diploma in Engineering Computer Systems and Telecoms
- BTEC level 3 Extended Diploma in ICT Systems and Principles, or Networking and Systems Support
- NVQ level 2 Installing Structured Cabling Systems
- seven-hour online course for employees working in the area of Voice Switching (combining telephony, telecoms and Voice Over Internet Protocol)
- various beginner-level part-time and weekend courses in Basic Computing (getting started with, e.g., internet, email and various application programs)
- Foundation Degree/level 4 in Business Information Technology
- four-day course in Database Administration.
Also, although it’s not exactly a course, the Open University has linked with iTunes to provide a range of free learning materials, computing and ICT included. This is a great way of getting background details and exploring whether you would like to further your current studies in the area. To find out more, visit www.open.edu/itunes/getting-started
Professional vendor qualifications
Professional vendor qualifications are training and exams in a specific manufacturer’s products. The manufacturer should be a major supplier in the industry for its qualifications to have value, but do bear in mind that a qualification that is very valuable today may have less value tomorrow if a manufacturer goes out of business or there is a major change in technology.
Microsoft qualifications are perhaps the best known, with Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) seen as the globally recognised standard for IT professionals. This focuses on the ability to design and build technology solutions, which may include integrating multiple technology products and span multiple versions of a single technology, whether on-premises or in the cloud. The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification is also available and is a prerequisite to Microsoft’s MCSE expert-level certifications for experienced IT professionals. It focuses on the ability to design and build technology solutions. Microsoft, of course, offers a host of differently targeted certifications and exams – for full details, check out the ‘Learning’ area of its website: www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/default.aspx
Microsoft is not, of course, the only manufacturer on the market, and other big players, like Novell (Certified Novell Engineer and Certified Novell Administrator) and Cisco Systems, also have their own qualifications.
The CompTIA runs a series of certifications, which are credentials achieved through a testing process to validate knowledge within a specific IT support function. Its exams are developed by subject matter experts and the certifications are recognised throughout the industry as foundation-level skill sets. Its qualifications are widely recognised and may also form modules in other ICT awards and programmes.
The British Computer Society (BCS – the Chartered Institute for IT) is a qualifying body for chartered IT professionals. It offers a range of qualifications and certifications, such as the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) (see box) and other user qualifications, as well as BCS professional exams, which at their highest level take students to the academic level of an honours degree, and acknowledge practical experience and academic ability. To see the full range, you’ll need to visit the BCS website (see ‘Key contacts’).
The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) is the world’s number one IT user qualification. Seen around the world as the benchmark for digital literacy, the ECDL equips learners with the skills to use a computer confidently and effectively, building on existing knowledge and motivating further learning.
No prior computing skills or knowledge of IT are required to study for the ECDL – it is designed for those who wish to gain a benchmark qualification in computing to enhance their career prospects or for personal development. The ECDL is composed of a range of modules – each provides a practical programme of up-to-date skills and knowledge areas, which are validated by a test. This enables you to develop and certify your computer skills in the subject areas of your choice and to the level you need. Through the combination of modules you choose, you can create your own individual ECDL Profile. Choosing the combination that is right for you will depend on your current skills and experience, as well as on what you want from your qualification.
To find out more, visit the BCS website: www.bcs.org
The ECDL Foundation website is at www.ecdl.org
Typical IT jobs
Many jobs in this sector, particularly those that involve working with customers, require good interpersonal skills, as well as team-working and problem-solving abilities. All have technical content, ranging from the in-depth skills of a software developer through to roles that may need much less detailed knowledge. Some typical roles are:
- business analyst
- helpdesk operator
- software developer
- technical author
- computer forensics
- content management
- cyber security and risk management
- data analysis and analytics
- games development
- geographical information systems (GIS)
- hardware engineering
- information management
- IT consultancy (business and technical)
- IT sales
- software engineering (designing, building, developing, testing)
- systems/network management
- technical support
- web design.
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website at www.enhancedlearningcredits.com and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC.
Securing employment is inevitably a combination of:
- work placements
- the right CV
- going for the right job.
Those entering similar employment to that they had in the Forces may well start at the same level; those going into an unrelated field will probably start further down the ladder. Once into a company the employment possibilities are enormous in this expanding and changing industry. ‘Permanent’ employment is often regarded as lasting three to five years, and people commonly change employer every two years or so. In-house training is often provided, and good people can achieve rapid promotion.
Digital skills are increasingly vital for everyone’s lives. It’s estimated around 90% of all jobs over the next 20 years will require some level of digital skills. The employment possibilities are enormous in this expanding and changing industry.
Ed Vaizey, Minister of State, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills