It is safe to say that 2014 was the Year of Code. With the introduction of computing and coding into the UK school curriculum and the media hype around learning this digital skill, efforts are undoubtedly being taken to address the digital skills gap.
Today, digital is everywhere and digital skills are vital for the survival of companies. It is great to see that there are now over 4 million ICT jobs in Europe and this number is growing by 100,000 year on year, according to figures from the European Commission. However, it is predicted that in 2020, there will be a shortfall of almost one million ICT professionals in Europe. An O2 report also finds that over 745,000 new ‘digital workers’ will be needed by 2017. Evidently, we need to ensure talent supply meets demand in order to stimulate future economic growth. And this is especially true for the survival of SMEs.
Bridging the skills gap
Currently, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK make up over 99.9 per cent of businesses and are therefore a crucial component to the growth of the economy, but finding and recruiting enough talent is proving difficult. In today’s digitally driven world, tech skills that were once confined to traditional software companies are now expected in businesses outside the tech hub. However, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, nearly a third of SMEs have reported a lack of digital skills as their biggest pain point and a barrier to the growth of the company. In particular, having the right knowledge about how to develop online presence is proving to be a challenge as one third of staff in SMEs and charities do not have basic online skills. Given that strong web presence is critical for an SME to remain competitive in its market, these figures paint a worrying picture.
If we are to bridge this digital skills gap, politicians, businesses and the education community need to work on long-term plans, rather than just quick fixes. That is why it was encouraging to see the introduction of computing and coding to the UK educational curriculum last September. For the first time, pupils are learning algorithms alongside arithmetic and apostrophe usage as, from Year 1, they are learning to code. By the time they reach Key Stage 3, they will be expected to be proficient in more than two programming languages and be able to apply them to creative projects. This is a great response to the need to bridge the skills gap and a shining example of how businesses and education communities can work more closely together to ensure young people are ‘work ready’ in our increasingly more digitally-dependent world.
This is a step in the right direction. Coding will be an invaluable, transformative skill for children to learn when it comes to their future careers. We could even argue that in today’s world just as businesses show high regard for future employees who can speak another language, the ability to understand computer language will be recognised in the same regard.
Teaching the teachers
However, teaching coding requires expertise and unfortunately whilst we wait for ‘generation code’ to get up to speed with this new skill, we are still left with a generation gap of teachers who do not currently have the knowledge of how to code. In fact, a survey by MyKindaCrowd found 74 per cent of ICT teachers don’t feel they have the skills to teach computer science and almost the same number question whether the government will provide support to begin teaching the new subject. They also fear they do not have the time to learn this new skill.
It is crucial that teachers are provided with the necessary support to develop their own skills and deliver engaging lessons that inspire children to learn how to code. Given the impact learning such skills can offer to the survival of SMEs and the economy as a whole, this needs to be a collaborative effort by the government and the industry itself.
Whilst teachers get their heads around coding, clubs such as Coder Dojo are proving to be invaluable in today’s digitally dependent world. Set up to teach students basic HTML and CSS coding in 2011, there are now 476 CoderDojo clubs in 48 countries – including one at the Intel Security site in Cork, Ireland. It is an open-source, volunteer movement teaching young people between 7 and 17 to code, develop website, programmes and games. Next month, young coders from Ireland and around the world will fly in for CoderDojo’s Coolest Projects Awards, an event in which young coders under the age of 18 showcase their creativity and skills with computer languages and hardware by submitting individual or group projects in which they have built cool apps, websites and robots.
Seeing young teenagers get involved in projects like this shows just how much can be achieved if children are supported and encouraged to learn career-critical skills. Coding in school and extra-curricular groups are embedding employable skills from an early age and giving young people the knowledge of how to think like a programmer. We should see the digital skills gap as an incentive for businesses to invest in young people and teach the future generation of workers the necessary skills they will need in this technologically-driven world. This will be crucial for SMEs in the future.
Tim Stone is SMB and distribution director at Intel Security.