Too many passengers but not enough mechanics – addressing the it skills gap


Last week, I went back to school with our client Portcullis Computer Security to launch its Raspberry Pi ICT competition aimed at secondary school children. The thought of going back to school was absolutely terrifying; I barely got out of high school in one piece the first time round so 12 years later, the thought of going back filled me with deep dread.

Putting my fears aside, I actually learnt quite a bit. There was a history lesson on women in technology and the important role they played in the Second World War, a look at the current shortage of ICT skills in the industry and also how the government plans to address this shortage.

Today, everyone has a computer in their pocket in the form of a mobile phone so lots of young people think they are good with computers. However, there is a big gap between using the computer and actually understanding how they work, with students missing the fundamentals of coding and programming.

The government is addressing this issue; In September, the current ICT curriculum will be radically replaced with a computer science syllabus that will introduce school children to coding and design from an early age, which could see school kids creating their own apps for smartphones and writing their own code.

But will the new syllabus address the needs of the IT industry and the skills shortage and should the UK be relying on the government to bridge that gap? Unemployment rates are still high amongst computer science graduates and last year it was estimated that the demand for new staff in UK IT was between 156,000 and 179,000 people per year.

The technology industry is also facing an image crisis and is still portrayed as being the career path for ‘geeks’. Research by Nominet shows that around half of 13-24 year old students believe that all careers in the IT sector are very technical but there are numerous opportunities within operational roles like sales and marketing. Could the new syllabus be a way for the tech industry to rebrand itself as ‘cooler’ and encourage a broader, more interesting experience with IT from a young age?

This is where the history lesson comes in (there’s a trip to Bletchley Park on offer for the winning school). At the launch, pupils were taught about the role of women and technology in World War II and how code breakers were a vital part of deciphering German intelligence. During Bletchley Park’s wartime activities there were 10,000 people working there, and about 75{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} of the staff were women who operated Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer to decipher messages. But it has only been recently that the women of Bletchley have been able to talk about their secret work.

This sparked an interesting discussion – if the women could have talked about their experiences and the vital role they played in breaking code, would the IT landscape look different? Who can say for sure but what we do know is that 72{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} of respondents in a recent survey by McAfee claimed to not recognise any of the females in leadership technology roles that were listed.

It will be interesting to see what September brings but one thing can be said, the industry and government are working hard to address the skills gap and inspire a new generation of new IT gurus. Who knows, if it had been available when I was at school, I could’ve been one of them…