A recent BBC technology news report highlights a stark disconnect between industry demand for digital skills and the number of young people studying IT (UK ‘heading towards digital skills shortage disaster’).
As a tech employer supporting businesses and government organisations in cloud adoption and digital transformation, we’ve been aware of this growing skills gap for some time. In fact, we set up our own Academy to help clients upskill staff and embrace modern ways of working.
However, re-training people who already work in IT is just one small part of the solution. Action is also needed to help workers without a technology background develop new skills. School leavers need to be presented with a full range of digital training options that could lead to a fulfilling career. And, most importantly of all, we need to find ways to ensure fundamental digital skills are integrated with learning throughout the education cycle – from nursery school to high school and beyond.
When I say ‘we’ I mean all of us. Industry, government and education providers need to come together on this vital matter.
Joining-up industry and education
It’s easy to complain about schools and colleges being out of touch with the digital needs of modern industry. But it’s impossible for teachers to keep pace with such a rapidly evolving environment unless they receive guidance from people at the coalface.
A 2016 OECD Forum, The Future of Education, highlighted that ‘65% of kids today will do jobs that have not yet been invented’. How can education providers prepare young people for jobs that nobody has heard of yet?
The answer is to focus on core skills, traits and aptitudes, from resilience to problem solving. Encourage young people to be comfortable and confident in their own learning style. And don’t assume that a degree in computer science is the only route to a rewarding and potentially lucrative tech career. There are many paths that might be more appealing and accessible to people who are less academically inclined, from apprenticeships and HNDs to on-the-job training.
Industry can play an important role here, both supporting education providers and engaging young people. It might be as simple as attending careers evenings or it could involve longer term partnerships focused on the development of practical skills.
Here in Wales, the national curriculum has been modernised to put greater emphasis on technology and integrate it with other subjects. This is a great start which begins putting digital skills on a similar footing to English and maths. However, we need to take this further.
Personally, I’d like to see young people given more opportunities to build competences in foundational areas such as data management and analysis. Current hot topics such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are firmly rooted in data principles. There’s every reason to believe that many of those jobs which ‘haven’t been invented yet’ will be too.
Covering the full education spectrum
There’s a natural interface between industry players and secondary schools or further education establishments. Young people aged 15+ are starting to make direct career-related decisions, and many schools and colleges employ a dedicated careers advisor. It should be relatively straightforward for businesses to make connections and build relationships that benefit students and future talent pools alike.
However, we also need to find ways to reach younger children, ideally the under-10s. Many preconceptions which affect later attitudes and choices are formed by this age. Opening children’s eyes to the possibilities that technology can unlock, in a way that is meaningful to their age and stage, can make a positive difference. The industry could join forces with early years and primary education providers to achieve this, but for it to happen at scale will require Government backing.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is much-untapped potential in adults who didn’t develop relevant digital skills at school. Right now, this is an area where businesses can make a profound impact. Digital training can be truly life-changing for individuals who are ready to embrace a new career opportunity and it offers a practical way to start addressing the skills shortage. That’s why we jumped at the chance to be part of AWS’ re/Start initiative.
AWS re/Start is a training program that prepares people for a career in cloud computing. Geared towards unemployed young adults, it teaches AWS Cloud fundamentals which can secure an entry-level cloud engineering role. Delegates don’t need a technical background, just a willingness to learn. They are supported in areas such as CV writing and interview techniques as well as digital skills. Towards the end of the program, there are opportunities to make connections with local employers looking for cloud engineers.
As Covid-19 restrictions ease, many businesses are talking about the need to ‘build back better’. It would be great if we could all commit to doing more about the digital skills shortage, with deeds not words.