Businesses - why the skills gap is your problem too

With the coding curriculum now in play, it has been an important year for IT with the Year of Code initiative prompting many to reflect on the serious issue facing the sector. Namely, that there simply aren’t enough youngsters equipped with the necessary skills to take advantage of the growing number of opportunities. This is an issue for the IT industry as a whole, from resellers to software developers.

Although the Government’s ‘Year of Code’ has provided a great opportunity to highlight the problem facing the sector, many are still calling for more action to be taken by both the government and the IT industry to ensure we don’t miss out on a whole generation of talent.

The UK Council of Professors and Heads of Computing recently predicted that there will be a 15 per cent rise in the number of IT roles by 2022, despite the fact that the number of graduates looking for jobs in the sector is falling fast at a rate of 50 percent in the last decade.

False perceptions

It is essential that the industry steps up to tackle the problem, particularly if we are to avoid falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to technology innovation and growth. Of course, a problem shared is a problem halved, which is why the Government’s ‘Year of Code’ is a great way to encourage educators and the industry to work together to inspire the next generation of coders. However, providing the public with a false impression around the simplicity of coding – ‘if kids can do it, anyone can!’, is perhaps setting false perceptions and eroding the fact that software development requires a great deal of skill and expertise.

As we know, coding is an extremely malleable skill to have and will no doubt continue to become more valuable as time goes on. However what we need is a realistic, long-term plan that really has the ability to bring about change.

What’s more, while it is important that children are taught the right skills and principles to inspire a career in the industry, it is also crucial that those skills are taught by the right people and in the right way. The old teaching curriculum, for instance, was predominantly focused on showing children how they could use software, not build it. So, in this way, the new IT syllabus will go some way to tackling this long-standing issue.

Now from Year 1 onwards, ‘Computer Science’ will be taught to every child - an ambitious move but one that could pay off if we provide children with the skills to programme in more than two languages before they hit their teens.

Teachers need support from businesses

Teachers will need our support too – particularly considering a recent survey by MyKindaCrowd that revealed 74 per cent of ICT teachers don’t feel they have the skills to teach the new computer science subject. Therefore, it is crucial that teachers are provided with the necessary support through a collaborative effort from the industry as well as the government to ensure the skills they are passing onto the next generation of coders will be applicable and of real value to the IT industry.

At Mercato, we are piloting an innovative digital approach with a local school that speeds up the process of up-skilling students for employment. If it proves successful, it is hoped the scheme will be rolled out across the UK.

Coding qualifications are not necessarily the only path to a career in technology, however. We are also using our KnowledgeKube software platform to upskill a local workforce and quicken the pace of making apprentices work-ready, enabling them to rapidly build business applications within 60 days of induction. This is helping to make people more employable and bridge the gap between education and the commercial world.

Any skills shortage affects growth and impacts productivity as well as increases the hiring cost per skilled worker. It is therefore critical the industry lends its expertise and actively seeks ways to help bridge the skills gap to make sure we have skilled ‘work ready’ IT professionals entering the industry in years to come. We must all play our part in making this happen. After all, who better to tell the next generation about this highly skilled, constantly evolving and increasingly relevant occupation than the industry itself?

The contribution of the IT industry should be worked into a long-term plan to ensure we continue to grow and innovate.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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