THE BLOG
18/11/2013 09:53 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Digital Skills Gap Is an Opportunity, Not a Problem

As the buzz around Tech City has accelerated over the last 18 months its hard not to notice the evolving stages of pessimism by those watching from the outside.

At first, the second guessing centered around questions of legitimacy. Was there too much hype? Was the government investing too much in something lacking substance? Were there really any world beating companies coming out of East London? But the digital economy now accounts for 8.3% of Britain's GDP and real companies solving real world problems like Mendeley, Transferwise, and TrialReach are forcing this line of questioning to slowly dissipate into the new critique du jour - the digital skills gap.

A recent study from GfK found that almost half of Tech City's businesses say a shortage of skilled workers is the biggest challenge they face as an organisation. On top of that, nearly eight out of 10 (77%) say they could grow faster if there were more skilled people available.

These numbers have been cited repeatedly by politicians, newspapers, entrepreneurs and critics alike. Treating the digital skills gap as a problem is fun because it allows us to place blame on entities like the government or education but is it really a problem? Well that's simply a matter of perspective.

Let's start by looking at the most in demand skill set for tech companies - web development. There are currently 3,000 open tech jobs in London startups alone. When looking at the sector as a whole those vacancies represent a glaring hole in the UK labour pool.

But from the perspective of an enterprising individual, it represents massive opportunity. For instance, within web development, the most in demand skills are HTML, CSS, and Javascript (Front-End Web Development) and Ruby on Rails (Back-End Web Development). The starting salary of a junior developer with any of these skill sets range from £18k to £24k and for the ambitious it can escalate to upwards of £50k in as little as a year. Fortunately, for those interested in breaking into the tech sector, a basic proficiency in these skills can be learned in as little as a few months. I know this because I've seen it time and time again.

For example, In the spring of 2013, General Assembly had a student named Pedro Maltez enroll in our 12 week Web Development Immersive course. Pedro was 20 years old, did not attend university, was supporting himself as domestic cleaner with his mother, and failed to land a job at the checkout counter of Tesco.

But over the course of 12 weeks, through much trial and error, Pedro learned these new skills and put himself in a great position to launch a new tech career. Pedro's now working as developer at an up-and-coming Shoreditch based agency called Adaptive Lab.

Pedro's story is certainly not unique. Every month we see a new cohort of students start new careers or take on an entirely new direction. General Assembly and similar institutions have emerged in the last few years as viable alternatives to going back to university.

At General Assembly we've been focussed on improving the employability of our students by updating our classes and courses to reflect the 'real working life' skills sought after across the industry. Our new User Experience Design Immersive course for example, is based on the skills employers are looking for right now and is taught by UX industry professionals.

As a result, graduates of our programs have gone on to take roles as developers, UX designers, product managers, data scientists, and digital marketers. All of which consistently rank as among the most in-demand roles in the tech sector. That's why I don't view the skills gap as a problem. The barriers to entry are low and never before has so much opportunity for a new career been in reach.

It's very easy for us to see the state of the job market in tech and point fingers. But if we're going to blame anything we can only blame the rapid rate of change in technology and business. Those who can recognize this challenge and adopt the attitude of becoming a lifelong learner will only open themselves up to a lifetime of possibilities.