What they said…

Opinions on Royal Society findings around the UK's dire need for data science skills, and a University of Roehampton study showing a drop in numbers of computing qualifications for 16-year-olds in England

On the University of Roehampton’s study revealing a drop in computing qualifications

Charles Senabulya, vice president and country manager, SAS UK & Ireland

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“The downward trend we have seen in 16-year-olds gaining computing qualifications is deeply concerning. The fact that more and more young people are leaving education without any computing qualifications will have severe repercussions for both their and the UK’s future. As a nation, we need to put more time and effort into fostering training programmes that allow the next generation to develop computing skills at an early age. The ambition to become a ‘data scientist’ or ‘data strategist’ is not yet commonplace, but these are some of the most valuable opportunities for students in a tricky job market. 

“Our research showed that big data and the Internet of Things could add £322bn to the UK economy over the period 2015–2020, and there will continue to be a strong demand for digital skills in these fields. There are plenty of opportunities out there – now we need to make sure our young people are equipped to seize them. “ 

Lee James, EMEA CTO, Rackspace

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The career opportunities for those with STEM qualifications has exploded with enterprise digital transformation. Studying engineering doesn’t mean you have to be an engineer; studying computing won’t necessarily lead you to be an IT technician. Graphic design, for instance, now commonly involves website and application development, while even the police now offer officers training in cybercrime. The reduction in students taking computing qualifications is not only concerning from an industry perspective – which is already suffering from a deficit of more than 173,000 workers – but it will also restrict many of our young people from taking advantage of the fourth industrial revolution and the creative, unpredictable and exciting career opportunities these skills enable.

“As an industry, we must ensure that we’re promoting how, as technology increasingly underpins our working lives, a solid STEM skillset will help our young people succeed in whatever career path they aspire to – across every industry and in every business.”  

Ash Merchant, education director, Fujitsu UK and Ireland

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The current skills shortage costs the UK STEM sector £1.5bn. With digital transformation increasing the demand for tech skills, the problem will only get worse in the near future, particularly for highly technical jobs. For example, the current shortage of data scientists and engineers can partly be put down to a lack of awareness of the various paths these roles have to offer, and the perception that they are boring.

“All organisations – private and public – must work together towards closing the skills gap and ensuring children are fully educated on the benefits and rewards in following a career in STEM. We must address the challenge by providing a wealth of opportunities in schools, to apprenticeships, graduate schemes and degree apprenticeships. This also includes helping educators harness the latest tools and developments to enable them to train the future workforce in a tech-savvy way.

“We need to collaboratively ensure we are investing in educating STEM at the very beginning to develop the right skills for the future. Harnessing the careers of young people will be pivotal in closing the digital skills gap and will ensure that the UK can remain competitive.” 

On the Royal Society’s Data Demands report

Robert Fleming, Senior Vice President, Qlik

It’s disappointing to see the decrease in time spent teaching computing and ICT in secondary schools. Whatever the underlying reasons, the government must play their part to make the necessary curriculum changes to increase awareness among students of the value of careers in technology. As data is now relied upon by companies of all sizes to work more efficiently, an organisation’s ability to succeed is heavily dependent on its employees’ abilities to learn a new language. The language of data.

“It is therefore inevitable that those who can read, work, analyse and argue with data when they leave education will be able to contribute more to their roles and organisations in the future workplace. Worryingly, our research showed that 79% of British 16-24-year-olds are hampered by data illiteracy.” 

Graham Hunter, VP of skills certification, CompTIA

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Developing digital skills starts at school so it is important to have classes and opportunities that encourage young people to learn. However, recent news that the uptake of computer science in schools is declining suggests that these changes to the curriculum are in fact putting many students off pursuing an IT-focused career. 

“There are a number of other ways to encourage kids to get into the industry outside of the traditional curriculum, however. Vocational qualifications, such as the upcoming T-levels, and extracurricular initiatives like Cyber Discovery for example, can be utilised to inspire and inform young people about careers in technology. Schools also need to encourage lifelong learning and the Royal Society statement addresses the fact that we need real-world changes to impact the entire curriculum. Digital skills have become essential to all job roles – everyone from doctors to retail assistants utilise tech as part of their job role – so schools should proactively encourage students to harness technology in whichever subject they enjoy.” 

Eva Murray, head of business intelligence at analytics database, Exasol

“There are two main factors which are contributing to the skills shortage – speed of innovation and a lack of training. The tech industry is at a point now where innovation and advances in technology are happening faster than skills can be developed. Unfortunately, schools and universities have not been able to keep up the pace to date with lower numbers of students studying STEM subjects. This is coupled with a lack of awareness in the growing skills shortage from organisations. 

“While they may get excited about new innovations, and invest in technologies accordingly, they are not always investing in the training and development of their own employees to meet the needs of the new technologies. This needs to happen if they are to stay ahead of the curve and have the skills required to match new innovations. While graduate data shows positive signs that we may be closer to plugging the skills gap, this is no time to rest on our laurels. Leading companies will compete to attract employees with the right blend of skills and to drive meaningful transformation projects.”   

Michael Forshaw, founder and CEO, Edtech Impact

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The report alludes to the step-change in education required to achieve a healthy data science landscape in the future. Edtech has an important role to play in a change in curriculum offering. As well as helping to widen the access to a greater range of subjects offered through to the age of 18, it can also support the development of valuable transferable skills required for data science jobs of the future. However, just as data science relies on evidence, we should also be looking to elevate edtech solutions that are based on evidence of helping students achieve positive outcomes, particularly around the digital skills required to excel in life outside of school.”