Filling the IT skills gap

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Filling the UK’s ICT skills gap is one of the hottest topics for government and employers right now.

When I was invited to a Tech Nation meeting at Downing Street in February with the UK alliance partners, the talk was all “skills-gap”. What’s good is that the UK recognises that tech will contribute billions more to the economy than it does today, so is doing something about it – today.

What is the skills gap?

Simply put, the majority of ICT graduates I’ve interviewed for jobs leave university with nothing like the skills modern tech companies, particularly SMEs (small and medium enterprises) like mine, need. Every ICT graduate I’ve employed has been a hobbyist programmer, web developer, or UI designer. They learn what employers want today because they teach themselves in their spare time. That means the curriculum is not keeping up with the industry, and how can it?

A three or four year degree cannot flex enough to accommodate advances in tech. So universities and employers need to work more closely to bridge the gap that will prepare students for work. SMEs are more agile, and can quickly adopt new technology because they’re not anchored in to legacy platforms that can take a long time to break away from or redevelop.

With e-Skills UK estimating that Europe could be facing a skills gap of 900,000 skilled ICT workers by 2019/2020, up-skilling is unquestionably essential – so where do we begin?

Tech hubs

This is where universities and government are looking UK-wide to establish successful tech hubs that bring together SMEs and innovators in a spirit of collaboration – sharing new ideas, and building strategic partnerships.

As a ‘Digital Dozen’ ambassador for UK Tech event Digital 2015, I firmly believe in the power that these events have in terms of bringing entrepreneurs and thought-leaders together to establish meaningful relationships and inspire the next generation of digital thinkers.

Giving people the opportunity to learn about digital skills in the company of prospective employers, recruiters and training companies is a step in the right direction. Raising awareness of opportunities in digital industries and talking about the potential of technology will encourage people take ownership of their futures, follow their entrepreneurial instincts, and enter the digital sphere.

Based in South Wales, which is the fastest growing tech hub in Europe, Schoop has benefited from being a part of Tech Nation Alliance Partner. I had no idea there were so many bright and blooming tech companies right on my doorstep that we can learn from, and grow together. There are similar alliance partners throughout the UK.

Bodies like the ESTNet (The Electronic and Software Technologies Network for Wales) have also launched campaigns to help upskill ‘work ready graduates’ in partnership with technology companies, local universities and the Welsh Government.

Projects like these give companies the opportunity to employ an undergraduate from the electronic engineering or computer science departments at leading universities to work on a project specific to the business. Perfect! This is exactly the kind of initiative we discussed at Number 10.

Can education and the UK government do more?

There is definitely room for improvement. Events and collaborative tech-hubs need to gather momentum, and continue to become bigger and brighter beacons that inspire future generations.

If these kinds of events and projects continue to be rolled out, and keep their funding, then those undergraduates can go back to university and drive the changes required in the curriculum. Education should be prepared to learn something back.

by Paul Smith, Founder & CTO, Schoop