Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 107-119)


2 MARCH 2005

  Q107 Chairman: We would like to start this morning with the question of skills shortages. We keep hearing that the 80s and the 90s were two almost lost decades as far as industrial training is concerned. The skills shortages are quite clearly apparent. To what extent are employers trying to fill the skills gap with female labour as distinct from male?

  Ms Cantelo: I know in the IT industry they are particularly concerned about this. They have two drivers behind it. One is obviously that although they are not in as bad a situation as they were, they still do have shortages that need filling and that is having some real impacts on business. The second is that the IT industry, as we all know, is affecting everything we do and the way we do it. Men and women interact with technology very differently. I am not saying one is superior or inferior but there is a big difference in the way men and women interact with technology. That means that if you only have one gender going into it, then it is very difficult for the industry to be competitive and to recognise the way women interact with technology. Yes, they are very concerned. They have been the drivers for a lot of the work we have done on trying to address the issue.

  Q108 Chairman: Does that mean that men are deemed to be more technology sympathetic?

  Ms Cantelo: No. The position is that if I gave you a Palm Pilot and one of the women on the panel a Palm Pilot, the woman would probably very quickly work out exactly what the Palm Pilot could do for her and work out where it was useful, whereas the man would be much happier just fiddling around for hours. That has all sorts of connotations. The man's attitude gets us to the moon, if we did go to the moon, but why did we go there? The man's attitude also means that we have 20 programmes on a washing machine. Why do we need 20 programmes on a washing machine when we only ever use three? There is a huge difference between the way men and women react with technology and what they want from technology. As I said, that is affecting everything we do at the moment. If you just have men in technology, then men will be designing for men. There is that imperative but also the skills shortage. We had a survey that came out at the beginning of this year of 3,000 employers and, of those that had skills shortages, 76% were saying that it meant they could not develop products and services and they had to delay that. Around 42% said that it affected their operating costs; it was pushing up their operating costs. Around 39% were saying that it was causing no end of problems; they could not actually even address customer needs because of it. It is a huge issue in the industry. Women are seen as the way of addressing the issue.

  Q109 Chairman: The root of the problem is that there are not enough girls and too many boys?

  Ms Cantelo: Women just are not applying. In fact, the number of women is dropping. What is peculiar in the IT industry is that the first ever programmers were actually women but somehow it has become now a male profession. We think there is a whole load of things behind that but the main one is image, that women tend to see it as for very geeky boys. I was part of a survey at the beginning of 2001 where we went round with MORI and talked to a lot of girls and boys in focus groups. Not a single girl found IT interesting, not a single one. They all said it was for geeky boys only. It was quite frightening that some of them said, "We were interested in IT but then we thought the boys would think we were a bit geeky, so we stopped being interested in IT". They do not connect all the really exciting stuff they do, like the mobile phone technology and internet technology, with the IT industry and IT professional jobs out there. People tend to think of IT jobs as sitting there programming without anyone around you. In fact, what IT needs is people who understand the way people want to live and work and we need more project managers. A lot of those skills, to generalise, are often found with women. The main problem seems to be image and that has certainly been borne out.

  Q110 Linda Perham: Do you find it difficult to recruit women into training for the sectors you represent?

  Ms Cantelo: Yes. What seems to make a huge difference is that if you call the course something with "business" in the title, as opposed to just "IT", then far more women will apply but generally, no. The percentage of women in the IT industry is just over 20%, and it is the same with the training, the women just do not go into it at all.

  Mr Caple: In finance we have a slightly different issue. There is no difficulty in recruiting men or women into training programmes. I think the challenge is that much of the investment in training is spent on meeting the regulator's requirements, which are for threshold competence. That is important, but there needs to be more investment in two other areas, particularly in terms of attracting and retaining women. One is in pre-employment training, in helping people get ready for the sorts of demands that jobs in our industry make; the other is in terms of continuing development, advancing their skills. This is becoming more and more important in terms of the development of women because the proportion of women is growing in the industry to almost 50%. By the end of the decade, it will be well over 50% altogether. The proportion of part-time jobs held by women is also growing, especially in banking. Across the industry as a whole, technology is driving a lot of change. You have just heard one very good reason why the finance industry should be looking for more and more women perhaps. As the industry itself changes, the level of skills required goes up. Therefore, when we want to attract people of any sort, and particularly to promote women from basic jobs into higher level jobs, there is a need for a massive added investment in training and retraining in order to help people progress. I think a related issue that ties in with this one of technology skills is one of encouraging more women to return to the industry. That is a significant difficulty for many businesses that want to do it but do not seem as yet to find successful ways of doing it. There are some good examples of firms that achieve successful return rates, largely because they provide adequate training. They also provide other facilities that make it easier for women to return to work, particularly those who have responsibilities for children, and the provision of facilities that help women make that adjustment seems to be one of the critical factors in the success in helping women to return. We find that as women enter or return to the industry that help in development tends to happen more quickly than for men. We do not know why that is. I will not dare to speculate, but it just seems to be a fact. It is an interesting fact, given that the whole of the workforce will have to speed up the acceleration of its skills and skills level over the next five to 10 years.

  Q111 Judy Mallaber: In the last evidence we had there was a comment about the high level of secrecy within the finance sector, which therefore always seemed to create barriers in terms of knowing how or whether women could advance. Do you see that as a difficult factor and does it indicate a lack of interest in the sector in opening up new processes in a way that might break down some of those barriers?

  Mr Caple: I do not think it is a lack of interest. Confidentiality goes with the territory. That is because of the nature of the business. That is a preconditioning factor in the culture of any financial institution; you just do not go round talking about who has got how much in what account, or how much we are making out of a particular investment. That tends to influence the overall culture of any firm, I think. That is one factor. We are certainly a long way away from the age of standardised pay rates. The previous evidence you heard I think said quite a bit about the individuality of pay. Whether particular firms insist on individuals keeping their remuneration secret or not varies quite a lot although, again because we are a relatively new skills council, we have not dug into this from a research point of view yet; we will do so this year. I would say, anecdotally, that I do not find secrecy about pay to be either widespread or a matter of concern. That may be because of the narrowness of my experience. I do not pretend to know the whole of the industry. It is an issue, though, because it does create the conditions for exploitation and for unfair discrimination. In the context of our task, which is to improve productivity—and motivation is one influence on productivity—that is a situation that we, as a skills council, would be far from happy with. Secrecy creates division and creates a situation where people can be exploited. You do not get good performance out of people in those conditions.

  Ms Cantelo: This is not really something we have addressed in e-skills. Yes, there will be some secrecy but we have not looked at this in any depth.

  Q112 Linda Perham: We have heard evidence that some employers are quite happy with skills shortages because it means there is plenty of work for them and they do not want to train people who might then set up as competitors. I wonder if you think that attitude is widespread and, if so, whether left to themselves employers will ever take serious measures to address skills shortages?

  Ms Cantelo: I do not agree with that at all because of what I said at the beginning. There are two drivers. I can give you solid evidence. I have quoted the percentages of companies that are having problems because of skills shortages. Companies do not benefit from it at all; they are really losing money because of it and it makes them less competitive with overseas companies. You may get one-on-one consultants, and if you are a single one-man band consultant or one-woman band consultant, then obviously, if there are skills shortages, you are more in demand and you can put up your pay rates. That would not apply in companies. Companies are saying they cannot even produce the products they need to produce and they cannot give customers what they need. If they cannot do that, customers will go elsewhere.

  Mr Caple: I would agree with that generally. Again, in our industry, if it is a factor at all, it would be with micro-businesses where two or three or people may be working in a particular market, a niche market in financial advice for example. By and large, if you do not have the people, you limit the amount of business you can do. Ours is a knowledge business. It is very much a people business, although it relies heavily on technology. It is all about people, at the end of the day. If you do not have the numbers, you do not do the volume. If you do not do the volume, you do not generate the margins, et cetera. It is certainly not in the interests of our businesses to think like that.

  Q113 Linda Perham: How do we tackle skills shortages then? Are employers not doing enough or should the Government do more?

  Ms Cantelo: I think it is a joint thing. As far as e-skills is concerned, in the IT industry there are two problems with women going in and which we see as one of the routes to solving skills shortages. At the far end, there is an issue about retention which the IT trade association Intellect is looking at. Employers have got together. There is a board of very senior employers looking at that problem. The other thing, as I said, is image, it is actually getting women into the pipeline of wanting to go into IT jobs. We have two programmes—one has been fantastically successful and very heavily supported by employers—for getting women to change their minds. One of the programmes is called Computers Clubs for Girls. After the MORI research, we found that girls found IT so boring that we actually spoke to them and asked what would make them want to do it. If you want to learn Adobe Photoshop, how do we make you learn it? We have done a combination of things like mail art and gone through all the interests the girls have between the ages of 10 and 14. We have had pop stars, Simon Webbe from Blue come into the office, the whole thing. We had a big pop concert with all sorts of people, anything to incentivise the girls, using the things the girls already know and absolutely love to learn IT professional skills, and in doing so completely changed their attitude about what IT professionals actually do. We piloted that in the south-east with SEEDA funding. It is now going national through Department for Education funding. The pilot so far shows that 65% of the girls who have taken part say they are much more likely to enter the IT industry now. If that really goes on, and we follow them through, then actually we would have too many girls in the industry rather than too few. The other thing about it is that girls love it to the extent that only two weeks ago I had a letter from a girl saying, "You have changed my life. I absolutely love this. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me". That is how exciting they are finding it. It has already won awards. It is teaching them proper professional skills tied into the national curriculum, but it is getting them before they become bigoted against the industry. Between 10 and 14, it is changing their attitudes. Teachers are also saying this is just fantastic. We have head teachers who are absolutely raving about it. They have found it re-motivates girls who are demotivated in other areas. It also stretches the able girls. That has been fantastically successful. We are getting IT companies to donate software to the schools, so that the schools do not have to buy the software. We are getting employers to go into the schools to help facilitate and offer prizes, et cetera. This is being supported by the industry and by Government. It has been fantastically successful, it really has.

  Q114 Sir Robert Smith: In your stereotyping of the male and female approach to IT you used washing machines, but, as a man who uses one programme on "easycare 40", I just wondered about that generalisation. Are you saying on average a man or woman would have that approach?

  Ms Cantelo: Yes. Obviously, some people have the other approach as well. Of course that is a generalisation. With the girls and the way we are approaching CC4G, yes, it is a generalisation that they like pink, et cetera, but we are hitting them where we know they are motivated, and we have been successful.

  Q115 Sir Robert Smith: One of the things we have had in evidence already is that retaining women or men in non-traditional sectors for them is a challenge. Is retention part of the remit of girls?

  Ms Cantelo: We have pretty much left it to Intellect. We set up the Women in IT Forum, which was a group of employers looking at this issue. We have seen that there is a big problem between the ages of 40 and 50 when women leave. Quite often it seems to be that they leave to set up their own companies. That is a huge problem in IT. It may well be, as we said earlier, it is about women coming back after having children, et cetera. My personal viewpoint is that if we stop thinking of childcare in terms of being the woman's role but the parent's role and it is just as likely a man would go off as a woman, then the problem would probably end.

  Mr Caple: We estimate that 15% of older managers in the industry in small businesses are women, which is higher than the UK average. Again, that is something we need to look at this year to see what the trend is. It appears to be growing. These are people who have spent a career in the industry and in their mid-forties, sometimes at a slightly earlier age than perhaps in IT, they are opting to run their own business, and being very successful at it. That is an issue in terms of motivating people, particularly young women, to join the industry. We have problems as well which span from "it looks very boring" to "they are a bunch of crooks". The media, particularly Hollywood, does not help because when you look at the portrayal of financial wizards in Hollywood films, who are they? They are all 37-something men and sharp. If there is a portrayal of a woman, it is the wicked witch of the west. These are the images that we have to work hard as a skills council to change. On the retention issue, yes, we do have a major retention problem, particularly in call centres where turnover can be very high.

  Q116 Sir Robert Smith: To clarify that, in call centres there would be quite a lot of women working there?

  Mr Caple: Yes.

  Q117 Sir Robert Smith: Obviously retention is a general problem, but we are trying to hone in to women who have chosen to go into an area that is traditionally male, or less so perhaps in your sectors where a man is doing a job that was traditionally a woman's job. We certainly heard earlier about people finding it difficult to stay on if they are not happy.

  Ms Cantelo: I think they just have an attitude that they are fed up with it. They are fed up with the long hours' culture. I can talk about that a bit more later. They are fed up with it and they get to the point where they think: I do not need to do this any more. They are a bit more comfortable in their lives and they think: I am not going to do this any more; I will go off and do something by myself. I think it is that. They just stop wanting to play the game. That seems to be the anecdotal evidence that has come through so far. It was very interesting that on the Women in IT Forum—and this is a group of very senior employers—we had a number of women and almost all the women left during the time on the forum for exactly those reasons themselves, having come to the conclusion that this was what was happening. That actually played out on the forum itself, which was very interesting.

  Q118 Mr Evans: You have been hugely clever in answering both my questions before I have asked them. On this Palm Pilot point, do women read the instruction manuals?

  Ms Cantelo: Of course, always!

  Q119 Mr Evans: That is my problem. Both of us only use one programme on the washing machine! Tom Caple, may I turn to you and ask this? We have heard what Anne Cantelo said about what is being done to get women into the IT industry. What about the City? Are there any specific programmes that you think are working?

  Mr Caple: Yes, there are two major initiatives. A lot of work is being done with young people, particularly young girls from the age of 12 onwards, just to bring them in to the City to see what it looks like, to introduce them to people who will start as a role model and, if the individual young person retains an interest over time, can then become a mentor. These people are successful women in the industry. It may start with just a chat and looking at or even perhaps a quick drive in that particular vice-president's Maserati. This is quite deliberate because the industry is about material success. Let us make no mistake about that. It is to help young people at that early age begin to see, get excited, become interested and meet people and then, if their interest is retained, over time, repeat those visits. The visits change until gradually, at 16 to 19, they get opportunities of work experience. The better programmes, the more successful ones, are work experience, not simply in watching people but actually helping those people become their mentors. That is working extremely well. The other major thing in the city that is needed is for the city to look beyond its traditional labour markets which all tend to be outside Inner London. In all the city fringe boroughs there is now a wealth of talent of young people, boys and girls, men and women, who would be extremely valuable within the industry, and we are working with the Corporation of London at the moment to begin a programme that will encourage the firms to look more at its doorstep when it wants to recruit people. When you look at the profile of educational attainment in fringe boroughs, it is quite noticeable that the higher achievers are young women, so, immediately, if you want to sell the idea to a city institution and to convince them they have got talent, it means you start looking at attracting these young women in. The other thing is that working with the Learning and Skills Councils, particularly in London Central and London East where we have very good partnerships, will be very important over the next two years, in launching programmes that attract the interests of these young people, brokering them into working relationships with city institutions, giving both sides opportunities to see what the career opportunity is but also what the talent is. We ran one pilot programme last year which exceeded all its targets that we set for it, so we have high hopes of that working.

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