Bridging the coding skills gap in the UK
The UK is considered to be the European hub for tech. Venture capitalist investment is three times higher than any of our European counterparts over the last two years (approximately £5 billion). We are in an unprecedented fourth revolution and STEM is the most in-demand skillset for the British workforce owing to the digital transformation that most businesses are undertaking.
And yet, the UK has reached a shocking shortfall of 173,000 workers, costing the UK economy £1.5 billion a year. How long can Britain maintain its top spot as a tech giant with the skills gap growing larger every year?
According to Microsoft, 65% of students today will end up working in jobs that don’t currently exist. With this exciting future ahead, why is there such a large coding skills gap in the UK?
The gender gap is a massive contributor to the skills shortage. So, what’s causing this issue?
Gender stereotyping from birth can be largely held to blame for the lack of women showing an interest in coding from an early age. From toys and clothes to job roles and career possibilities, historically we have hardwired the female gender to cast aside maths, science and technology because of their ‘boyish’ connotations.
This is not new news. In fact, Dr Hannah Dee, previously named the ninth most influential woman in UK IT, is pioneering an annual event encouraging women to enter the IT industry.
At GCSElevel, girls are outstripping the boys across the board. However, it’s the boys who outnumber the girls 8 to 2 in Computer Science classes at university level. Young women aren’t being encouraged into a career in STEM subjects – at least not as much as young men. At such a vital development stage, educational institutions need to do more. Not just to broaden the general uptake of STEM subjects, but to encourage women into them, too.
The good news is we’re starting to see more of this. The government has introduced a drastic shake up of the traditional ICT lessons in schools for children as young as 5. Instead, the focus is on a ‘computing’ curriculum with a big emphasis on coding. Putting this time and energy into the coding topic with children at such an early age should start to make an impact on the subjects they choose further down the line.
Alongside the governments’ rigorous curriculum change are pioneers like Kano who are encouraging exploration in the world of coding with toys, games and online activities. Whether it’s in the classroom or at home, children can embrace the world of coding from a fun and engaging perspective, regardless of their gender.
There appears to be a certain ‘stereotype’ of your typical UK coder; fresh, young (likely male) university graduates who invariably come from a white, British background. They demonstrate those ‘geeky’ skills that make them an excellent candidate for sitting at their desk, doing 14-hour days.
As a result, unconscious (and even sometimes conscious) bias means managers tend to hirepeople who are culturally similar to themselves. So, it stands to reason that a white, British male is more likely to recruit other white, British males when hiring for a tech role.
Sadly, even if someone from a different gender, culture or race gets the coveted job, they often experience an overwhelming sense of not belonging due to the lack of representation. And even the big organisations are failing when you see that Blacks and Hispanics only make up:
- 1%of Twitter’s engineering leadership
- 2% of Google’s team
- 2%of the techies at Facebook
It’s not good enough and companies need to start actively doing more to promote diversity instead of just paying it lip service.
Although schools are trying to address the growing coding skills gap, there is concern that this development isn’t filtering through into the job market quickly enough. Since the UK’s decision to leave the EU, half of UK employers say the skills gap will worsen. That means the pressure is on to fill the void.
‘At a time when wage growth is so important to families in the UK, we must act fast to improve our home-grown digital skills if the UK is to stay at the forefront of the global digital economy post-Brexit,’ said Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK.
So how can we bridge the coding skills gap?
The government and many prominent businesses are already making big commitments and great strides to address the skills gap in the UK. These include:
- Education: By opening up a broader spectrum of STEM subjects at primary school level, we will ensure that more children go on to pursue a career in the specialist topics this country needs in the workplace – regardless of gender.
- Discussion: Talking about and addressing the skills gap at major conferences will also help businesses focus on the problem and collectively find solutions. Find a front row seat at one of Cloud Direct’s latest talks or events here.
- Mentorship:The Institute of Coding is a £40 million initiative backed by the government, 60 universities, industry experts and businesses to deliver practical skills and mentorship to students and those already in relevant job roles.
- The cloud:Cloud technology has made the world a smaller place, for the better. It’s enabled individuals from different background and circumstances to enter the job marketplace and secure work they previously would have been excluded from. Not only can remote work be possible for anyone now, but remote training and development has never been easier to deliver.
Encouraging children to start their STEM journey early is the most effective and economic way to bridge the skills gaps long term. Whatever their race, gender, culture or socio-economic upbringing, we have a generation of future technology experts just waiting to be given an opportunity. So, are you onboard?
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