Skills promotion a multi-faceted task

The long-term goal is to cultivate a professional image of the ICT practitioner, says NZCS president

Setting up a qualifications framework for ICT professionals is just the first step in the Zealand Computer Society’s plan to upgrade ICT’s image, says NZCS president Don Robertson.

While certification — developing recognised qualifications that testify to a certain level of skill and professionalism — is the society’s immediate goal, this also fits into its larger goal of cultivating a professional image of the ICT practitioner as well as the industry itself.

At the same time, the society will be doing its bit to help remedy the present shortage of skilled computer personnel, says Robertson.

Its work with the Ministry of Education around improving NCEA achievement standards also fits with this long-term goal. Without courses that convey something of what it’s really like to work in ICT students are unlikely to consider a career in the industry, says Robertson. And, if courses don’t allow for “merit” and “excellence”, which they currently don’t, students have less chance of being accepted for tertiary courses.

Wellington members of the society discussed these issues earlier this month and agreed that defining the standard required for certification, and assessing that someone had reached the appropriate standard, was complex.

There aren’t even consistent titles for ICT roles, which can range across a variety of skill combinations and application areas — from code development to architecture design, to project control and change management; all at different competence levels.

Further complicating the picture is the fact that most people believe they have acquired some computer skills simply in the course of dealing with modern life. But there is a difference, says NZCS chief executive Paul Matthews — just as there is between knowing how to apply a band-aid and being a qualified doctor.

The SFIA framework (Skills Framework for the Information Age), developed in the UK, was put forward at the Wellington meeting as being a good attempt at defining the skills involved in ICT as it encompasses the three dimensions: role, industry area and competence level. SFIA is appropriately pronounced “Sophia”, which is Greek for wisdom.

Formal examinations were discussed as being one possible route to certification. However, those members who hold a British Computer Society certificate spoke approvingly of that society’s practice of holding a two-hour oral questioning session by industry peers as providing a good indication of a candidate’s skills and judgment.

Coaching and mentoring by peers was mentioned as being a necessary too, and the NZCS already has initiatives in place.

One aim of certification is that such should be easily transferable between countries, allowing professional to get overseas work more easily. With this in mind, the NZCS is holding discussions with its British, Australian and Canadian counterparts, as well as the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP).

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