Without Information Technology, the Armed Forces today would be unrecognisable. Trying to imagine any modern military operation that doesn’t involve technology is all but impossible

IT sits behind almost every aspect of defence, from communications, intelligence and security, to the software and systems operating equipment in every division of the Armed Forces.

But it’s not just in the military that IT plays such a critical role. Technology is a creative, dynamic force, transforming every aspect of business and society – it sits at the heart of every sector, underpinning the systems, services, software and communications backbone on which the whole economy depends. Technology holds the key to innovation, and provides the driving force for productivity and future growth. Remove technology, and you disable the engine of our world.

No longer a back-office function, IT provides a major source of competitive advantage for businesses in all sectors. And working in technology is exciting, fast-paced and challenging. Whatever field you want to work in, and whatever size and kind of company, you can be sure technology plays an essential part in what they do.

That’s why every business in every sector needs a vibrant, highly skilled core of IT professionals. So it’s no surprise that demand for IT professionals has remained high, despite the recent recession. Our latest research shows that for the first time since the end of 2008, there were more advertised vacancies for IT professionals than there were candidates available to fill them – with the number of positions available in the third quarter of last year totalling an impressive 101,000. In the same period, the unemployment rate for ICT staff fell to just 3.1%, compared with a figure of 8.3% for the workforce as a whole. All in all, it’s a great time to think about going into a career in IT.

In doing so, you’d be joining the 1.5 million strong IT & Telecoms professional workforce – equivalent to 1 in every 20 people employed in the UK.

Only 40% of IT & Telecoms professionals are actually employed in the IT & Telecoms industry itself, with the remainder spread across every other sector of the economy – working in everything from low carbon and advanced manufacturing, to defence, retail or financial services.

And if you’re wondering what the future holds, the outlook is increasingly positive, with demand for technology professionals set to rise steadily. Employment in the IT industry over the next decade is forecast to grow nearly five times faster than the UK average, with over half a million new IT & Telecoms professionals needed over the next five years. This year alone, the IT & Telecoms professional workforce will require 110,000 new entrants to keep up with demand.

It’s predicted that almost half of these will be individuals employed in other occupations moving into IT & Telecoms, attracted by the exciting career opportunities, not to mention the excellent salary prospects. IT & Telecoms professionals currently earn 41% more than the national average – which equates to an additional £19,000 per year. By 2017, it’s anticipated that this figure will have risen to £32,000 per year, as the contribution the IT & Telecoms workforce makes to the economy continues to grow.

What does working in IT actually involve?

These days there really isn’t such a thing as a ‘typical IT role’, with so many diverse opportunities in every imaginable field. Despite that, it’s fair to say that a ‘typical modern day IT professional’ could not be further removed from the old stereotypes of techies sitting in a basement fixing their colleagues’ computers when they crash. Technology professionals increasingly work in, or manage, dynamic, cross-functional, even multi-national teams at the very centre of an organisation. They are closely involved with company strategy and with managing change – all of which require a strong set of business, technical and social skills.

What are the job roles that are most in demand, and what are the skills needed to do them?

In recent years, the job profiles and potential career paths in IT have changed significantly with globalisation meaning that traditional entry level job roles are increasingly sourced offshore. IT professional jobs in the UK are now more focused on high value roles such as such as project management, systems architecture, business process, change management, security, and risk management. Almost 40% of IT & Telecoms professionals now work at a managerial or strategic level, meaning business and communications skills are becoming as important as technical skills.

But core technical competence is still essential. To work in IT, you’ll need to understand existing and emerging technologies and keep up with the ever-accelerating pace of technological change. Our research shows that the technical skills currently most in demand are SQL, .NET, C#, SVR, ASP, Java, HTML, Javascript and Oracle. Employers have also identified security as one of the most critical issues for their businesses today, so IT professionals with excellent security skills are likely to be in hot demand.

How do I go about getting these skills?

Even if you’re an experienced IT professional, your skills need to be constantly updated. Equally, if you’re new to the IT workforce you’ll need to have access to the right training to progress more rapidly into higher level roles. But with such a huge variety of training available and new technologies continually emerging that require the latest cutting edge skills, it can be confusing knowing where to begin.

However, help is at hand – with a set of employer backed programmes from e-skills UK designed to support everyone from the most experienced IT professional to someone taking their very first steps in the industry.

If you already have experience of working in technology but want to update your skills, find the right training and qualifications you need to develop your career, and make yourself more valuable to employers, the National Skills Academy for IT should be your first port of call. As the employer-led centre of excellence in IT learning and development, the National Skills Academy provides access to high quality, cost effective training, qualifications and resources, including access to over 2,000 e-learning courses, test papers and guides, e-books, expert articles and research.

Everything on offer is approved by employers – including British Airways, IBM, Microsoft and Sainsbury’s – so it is guaranteed to be based on the skills and knowledge they look for in IT professionals.

Starting out in IT

The National Skills Academy for IT also offers apprenticeships as an entry route into the IT sector. An apprenticeship is a great way to kick-start your career in technology – offering the chance to earn while you learn, receive valuable workplace experience, and gain industry recognised qualifications. If you’re looking to get into software and web development, a technical support or technical sales role, there are currently limited opportunities nationwide on IT Technical Support, Technical Sales and Software and Web Developer Apprenticeship programmes.

If you’re looking to study an IT related degree at university as a route into the sector, e-skills UK’s Information Technology Management for Business (ITMB) degree is the degree of choice for IT employers when hiring graduates. Designed in partnership with some of the most influential companies in the sector, it is actively supported by over 60 employers – including Accenture, BA, BT, Capgemini, Cisco, Procter & Gamble, HP, IBM, and Logica – who give lectures, offer work placements and provide interpersonal skills coaching.

As well as receiving an up to date education that will prepare you for a wide range of careers, as an ITMB student you will get an unparalleled level of access to many organisations you might hope to join when you graduate. In fact, previous ITMB graduates are securing some of the most highly sought after graduate positions in the industry, including with Apple, Accenture, Ernst and Young, IBM, McKinsey, and Microsoft.

For more information about working in technology and to get the training you need to succeed in a technology career visit www.e-skills.com or www.itskillsacademy.ac.uk