Today, more than 1.5 million people work in the digital sector or roles related to digital technology. In fact, the number of digital technology jobs across the UK has grown at twice the rate of other roles. But, can education keep up? Here, Graham Smith, head of marketing at Microsoft recruitment partner, Curo Talent, explains how changes in education can fulfil the increased demand for IT skills.
Today’s young people and students are digital natives — let’s face it, they have been surrounded by technology since birth. That said, this familiarity doesn’t necessarily mean that they possess an in-depth understanding of IT and computing, or how to use it within a business setting. In fact, when it comes to how many people receive a formal technical education, the UK’s students are placed 16 out of 20 across developed economies.
Britain’s IT skills gap is no secret, but how can today’s young people transition from digital natives to digital workers?
According to a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), firms are finding it harder than ever to recruit skilled workers — almost three-quarters of service providers are struggling to make the hires they need. According to reports, skills shortages reached a critical level in the last quarter of 2017, with a record number of firms reporting recruitment difficulties.
Competition to find the right candidates is particularly high for roles that require niche skillsets. Specialists in Microsoft Azure, for example, are feeling the benefit of having some of the most in-demand skills in the industry. As the central pillar of all Microsoft projects, there is an evident skills gap in this area and, because of this, specialists can charge a premium.
But how many school-aged students have heard of Microsoft Azure, let alone are enthused enough to pursue this specialism through after higher education?
A new route
In 2015, only 15,000 British students sat an A-Level in computing or ICT. This accounts for less than two percent of the overall exams set. As a result, there are only a small handful of school leavers that are moving onto higher education study in this field. What’s more, despite multiple schemes and initiatives to increase this figure, the number only grew by around 500 students in 2016.
It’s clear that the university route isn’t suitable for everyone, so the introduction to T-level apprenticeships provides new hope.
T-levels, as introduced in the 2017 spring budget, will allow 16 to 19-year-olds to study and gain digital skills, through real-world experience. The government describes its plans as the “biggest overhaul of post-school education in 70 years”, with T-levels replacing thousands of courses currently on offer.
Students can only learn so much from a training programme in the comfort of a university campus. In the real world, there are deadlines, compromises and increased pressures. This lack of understanding of real-world IT in traditional education reinforces the value and need for T-levels.
As a specialist recruiter for the IT industry, Curo Talent has identified that IT organisations aren’t necessarily looking for candidates with bachelor’s degrees in computer science, but rather the determination and technical understanding needed to complete a project on-time.
The education changes are expected to come into effect in 2019, with additional funding of over £500m per year once the courses are up and running. As with all new initiatives, it will take time for the results to filter through. Put simply; the IT industry shouldn’t expect a quick fix.
According to a KPMG report, Britain has spawned 45,000 technology companies in the last five years. That’s the equivalent to one new business every hour. If the industry is to continue to grow, there needs to be an influx of new talent to build the IT infrastructure of these new companies. The consequences of not bridging this skills gap will result in adverse outcomes for the UK economy.
Additionally, the Office for National Statistics suggests Brexit uncertainty is damaging the UK’s reputation as the jobs factory of Europe. As a result, there’s a reduced number of EU talent moving to the UK to work. This makes it more crucial than ever to develop home-grown talent — and an overhaul of the UK’s technical educational must be the first step.
As the UK endures its technology boom, it’s vital that technical education remains a long-term government priority. As digital technology vacancies continue to grow at twice the rate of other industries sectors, talent in the field must too.