Industry must get hands-on to plug the tech skills gap

Lee James, CTO, EMEA at Rackspace, calls for a concerted effort to address the sector’s growing skills gap

The massive economic risk of not plugging the digital skills gap cannot be underestimated as we progress through this new decade. Accenture previously estimated that if G20 countries were unable to supply the skills required in the new technological era, as much as US$11.5 trillion in GDP growth could be lost by 2028.

Unsurprisingly, closing this gap has been a key issue across government, education, and industry – yet in the UK, we appear to be fighting a losing battle. Last year’s GCSE results revealed a year-on-year drop of more than 40,000 in those sitting for a qualification in either computing or information and communications technology (ICT).

If we are to succeed in plugging this gap, we need to transform the perception amongst young people about what digital skills could enable them to achieve in their future careers. Where previously a degree in computer science led almost exclusively to a career as an IT technician, today’s students must learn that, as technology underpins every aspect of our lives, these skills will become increasingly valuable in every job – whether you’re passionate about battling climate change or designing new fashions.

This is where industry has a key role to play in sparking students’ interest in technology, showing them the breadth of career opportunities available, and fostering ongoing engagement in the sector.

Engaging in the early years

The role of industry needs to be centred around getting young people excited about technology and showing them the breadth of career opportunities available. The new generation have grown up surrounded by consumer technology, which acts as a great basis for engaging students in career opportunities as they already understand how technology underpins how we live, work, and play.

Giving students hands-on experience of working in a technology company or department can help dispel myths that computing is boring or ‘for boys’, to help drive greater enthusiasm for pursuing careers in tech. For example, as part of an ongoing programme with King’s College School to support the institution’s drive to encourage students to undertake computer science, Rackspace welcomed 40 Year 10 students to its offices to participate in a half-day programme.

Students took part in workshops with Rackspace employees from across the business, who shared details about the range of opportunities available. Through Rackspace’s work with King’s College School, the institution reported that the number of students choosing GCSE computer science doubled, which shows the value in students hearing directly from – and interacting with – industry professionals.

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Giving graduates a broad taste

Beyond education, it’s important to help new graduates understand the different roles and opportunities out there. This not only enables them to find fulfilling and exciting careers, but in turn helps businesses retain talent that’s excited about the company’s digital projects and fosters their long-term engagement with the industry.

For example, Rackspace runs a graduate swap programme with a number of its customers, including the fintech GoCo Group. The programme encourages building professional relationships and networks at the very early stage of people’s careers, and is designed to inspire future generations to invest their career in the technology sector.

By running the programme in tandem with customers who are at the forefront of their respective industries due to their use of technology, graduates at Rackspace get a taste of the different applications of technology and how it is powering the future of how we live, work, and play. On top of this, a key part of the programme is ongoing mentorship from leaders in the partner businesses to encourage their development and widen their knowledge base and skillset.

Working together to plug the gap

With over two thirds (67 percent) of companies across the UK reporting they have unfilled digital vacancies, technology companies need to play an active role in fostering the next generation of tech talent. We cannot rest on our laurels and shy away from our responsibility to support educators in inspiring young people to pursue the exciting careers we know are out there.

If we are to succeed in closing the skills gap, we need a concerted and collective effort from government, educators, and industry to support young people in developing skills and experiences that will help them thrive in a tech career.

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