What they said: A-level results day edition

We hear from voices within the edtech sector about what A-level results day can mean for STEM students, and for the future of the tech industry

Colin Bannister, EMEA VP and head of presales, VMware

Technical qualifications are no longer the only the avenue to a career in technology.

“We’ve seen years of campaigning to encourage students to study STEM related subjects, which is commendable – to a point. These are valuable qualifications, but incentivisation efforts must be carried out with the understanding that technical qualifications are no longer the only the avenue to a career in technology.

“In fact, the tech sector in the UK is as vibrant because of the diversity of expertise and backgrounds of its employees. Today you can find countless successful individuals in the biggest tech companies across the country – including myself – who didn’t study STEM subjects beyond A-level, and bring a variety of different skills to the table.

“Why? The industry is developing with such speed that many of the tech skills learnt from studying STEM subjects are likely to become outdated in the space of a few years. It’s soft skills, therefore, that are vital. That’s why when we recruit, tech skills are just one of the dozen or so criteria we look at. We look for an ability to collaborate and function in teams, build relationships and empathise with the people around you in order to succeed. Technology businesses like ours need this variety of skillsets across the organisation to remain competitive.

“So whatever their results, this year’s students should be encouraged. The door to a career in the tech sector remains firmly open for those determined to enter.”

Carol Holden, VP of human resources, Software AG

There are plenty of opportunities for our graduates to go on and thrive – we just need to ensure they have the right skills to work with data.

“A-level results day may mark the end of an era – but it’s the start of a new journey too.

“The uptake in STEM grades signals that as students complete their education for the last time, they are becoming more aware of the potential that these kinds of skills have to aid them in a successful future career.

“However, more needs to be done. While STEM skills are important in being able to extract and analyse the data, we want to future proof our workforce by ensuring employees are able to become more creative in their interpretation of the data and that new innovations stem out of our abilities to discover new ideas. By putting data into the hands of the many, employees will have the ability and freedom to derive meaningful information from complex analytical data and reduce an organisation’s reliance on armies of data scientists.

“With Gartner reports shedding light on the need for data and analytics leaders to encourage a data-literate organisational culture that values information as an asset – we must remember that this training begins in schools.

“There are plenty of opportunities for our graduates to go on and thrive – we just need to ensure they have the right skills to work with data.”

Shahid Younis, CEO, Datawhizz Academy

Irrespective of the subjects that students choose to focus on in their GCSEs or A-Levels, being data literate will be key to understanding how people and machines intersect now and in the future.

“Young students nowadays face lot of uncertainty when it comes to preparing for future world of employment. Having to decide at an early age as to which subjects to study in order to prepare for jobs that may not even exist when they finish school or graduate, can be an impossible task. In addition, there is a lot of conflicting advice out there.

“Should we encourage students to hone their softer skills to remain employable over robots that lack the necessary empathetic traits of humans? Or should we try to plug the current skills shortage of machine learning and data science experts given the rapid developments taking place in automation, artificial intelligence and robotics?

“This question is especially imperative for future generations if you consider that young people are already almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and the education system as it stands is unable to adequately prepare them for this new generation of work. Qlik’s recent Global Data Literacy Report found that of those 16–24-year-olds already in work, 52% are overwhelmed by the data they must read and analyse as part of their job.

“Irrespective of the subjects that students choose to focus on in their GCSEs or A-levels, being data literate will be key to understanding how people and machines intersect now and in the future. I firmly believe that learning is a continuous process and am encouraged by companies like Qlik, which established Data Literacy Project as well as running partnerships with universities and schools globally to empower students in harnessing the power of data and analytics in their own learning environments.”

James Eiloart, senior vice president of EMEA, Tableau Software

Each year, the UK is short of 40,000 science, technology, engineering and math’s (STEM) graduates.

“While the government places digital skills at the core of its Industrial Strategy, a widening disconnect is emerging between the current educational system and the demands of the modern workplace.

“Much is still being made of the need to increase the number of students pursuing STEM subjects such as maths and computer science. Each year, the UK is short of 40,000 science, technology, engineering and math’s (STEM) graduates, but the challenge of equipping young people to thrive in tomorrow’s digital economy goes far deeper than simply offering more courses in these subjects.  We should be broadening our definition of what “technical skills” means by looking at what is actually needed in the workforce and inserting those skills into the broader curriculum.

“For example, skills like analytical reasoning, data science and business analysis are currently amongst the top 25 most in-demand skills for today’s workforce – these skills will be crucial for young people as they enter tomorrow’s workplace, whatever career path they choose. The ability to analyse and communicate back insights from data is emerging as a core competency every worker should possess. Rather than hiving these skills off into a handful of subjects, we should look holistically at how skills like data literacy can be embedded into teaching in the same way reading and writing are integral across all subjects today.

“The Royal Society’s Curriculum Review, published last year, makes a compelling case for incorporating data science into primary and secondary education across a broad range of data rich subjects such as history and geography.”

Sean Farrington, SVP EMEIA, Pluralsight

If we want to keep pace with the world’s elite on emerging technologies such as AI and 5G, we must encourage more young people, and in particular girls, to consider technology careers.

“Over the last year, the UK government has ramped up its efforts to encourage STEM development and learning in our schools. It has invested millions in teacher training through subject bursaries, urged technology companies to partner with schools as part of a £10m edtech fund and this spring committed to an extra £200m to support developments in the STEM industry.

“With this year’s results showing that STEM subject uptake is at 41%, with computing growing by 8%, and those achieving A* to C grades in computing reaching 63%, it’s great to see a return on investment and positive engagement in these subjects which will help keep the UK at the forefront of innovation for years to come.

“That being said, there’s still so much more to be done. Deloitte found this year that just 18% of business leaders believe that those leaving school have the right digital skills and experience for the workforce. If we want to keep pace with the world’s elite on emerging technologies such as AI and 5G, we must encourage more young people, and in particular girls, to consider technology careers. Just 13% of those taking computing A-level this year were female. A diverse and dynamic workforce is proven essential for greater innovation and creativity, hiring and retaining the best talent and better company performance.

“Of course, an increase in young people studying STEM A-levels is not indicative of them following into an IT career, but it does demonstrate that attitudes towards these industries are changing and individuals are finally realising the potential they can offer, which can only be a good thing for our country. But once graduates enter the workforce the hard work isn’t over. Employers need to continually invest in technology skill development of their workforce to keep them and the country moving forward.”