THE BLOG

Building an IT-Savvy Workforce

15/09/2014 14:25 BST | Updated 15/11/2014 10:59 GMT

An in-depth look at the state of the UK job market reveals a very troubling reality: the skills young people are learning in schools simply do not correspond with the needs of modern businesses. According to a recent Skills Crunch report, two-thirds of companies fear a lack of skilled workers will put the brakes on Britain's current economic recovery .

This reality touches virtually all industries, and is particularly concerning when it comes to IT. A growing number of businesses are beginning to appreciate the benefits of high-value technologies like the cloud and big data. From local start-ups to global enterprises, companies are in dire need of data scientists, talented coders and programmers, and app developers but are struggling to find graduates who can actually fill these roles .

Without an IT-savvy pool of graduates to choose from, businesses in the UK will struggle to remain successful. This will not merely be a question of British companies playing catch-up with global competitors; according to an Institute of Chartered Accountants report, one-third of businesses fear they will fold if they cannot find skilled workers they need in the coming years.

The root of the problem lies in how we are educating young people today. Schools have been slow to take heed of the growing role of IT in business, which means students are not being exposed to core computer science skills at an early-enough age. Both primary and secondary schools are singularly failing to keep pace with the changing demands of modern industry, creating a well-documented skills gap that threatens to stifle economic growth across the region.

Looking beyond this, a strong IT skills base will be nothing less than fundamental to the future growth of businesses in the UK, and in fact across all of Europe. These are every bit as important as other economic levers - such as infrastructure investment - when it comes to improving the balance sheet of a country. For nations such as Greece and Spain, that have experienced slow or negative growth over the last few years, every step possible must be taken to help businesses succeed. Arming people with relevant IT and technology skills represents a vital first step forwards.

A deep and wide pool of IT talent is also hugely important in empowering entrepreneurs to establish successful start-up businesses. SMEs form the backbone of the EMEA economy; in Europe, SMEs represent 99 per cent of all business and account for two out of three private sector jobs . Having access to a workforce which has the right IT and computing skills will help SMEs take advantage of the latest technologies to help them compete with their peers and larger businesses.

Over the past 12 months a great deal has been invested in supporting technology companies across Europe, with tech 'hubs' popping up in major cities to incubate and promote innovative businesses.

Clearly, the value that these forward thinking companies can bring to the wider economy will be limited if there is no qualified talent out there to sustain them and fuel their growth.

It will increasingly fall to primary and secondary schools to instil an appreciation for IT careers among the next generation earlier in their educational development so they can go on to pursue careers that add value to businesses across all sectors.

One of the main barriers stopping students from taking STEM or IT and computing subjects has traditionally been the lack of a clear career path. For many young people it is not clear what exactly they can do with a computing qualification apart from following a career in IT. Female students are also met with another problem: IT careers are still seen as something of a male preserve. This year's A-Level statistics show that the number of boys taking ICT is double the number of girls, while in computing, boys outstrip girls by nine to one . In light of this, it's hardly surprising that the percentage of students taking ICT or computing at a secondary school level remains so low. Last year in the UK, fewer than 10,500 students sat an A-Level in ICT, and less than 4,000 sat exams in computing.

One way for schools to address the issue is to make it clear just how many exciting and well-paid careers ICT and Computing training can lead to. Retailers, investment banks, fashion designers and production studios are just some of the businesses who need cloud computing-architects, big data experts, developers, computer games programmers and animation coders.

Ultimately, we need the education system to build a ladder of skills that will get pupils interested in computing and technology at a young age and encourage them to pursue these studies as they start making decisions about their careers. With the right encouragement and a better understanding of where qualifications in computing and technology can take them, we can encourage more students to become skilled IT professionals and better support the next generation of businesses that are so important to the economy's future.