Over the past couple of decades technology has become wholly entwined with the completion of our day to day tasks. Many of us obsessively check our smartphones from dawn to dusk. I for one am guilty as charged.
But there’s a problem that’s been brewing for a while; the lack of technical talent to fulfil our insatiable appetite for the latest next generation technology. According to code.org, there will be 1,000,000 more jobs than computer science students by 2020, attributing to a $500 billion dollar opportunity gap. The problem is not just across the pond, many British businesses have also come forward to state that young people do not have the right skills when they leave school. This is not just in technology, science and engineering but in all subject areas, including soft skills.
The issue is one of diversity too. Over half the population is female, yet they are largely underrepresented in the evolution of technical products and innovation.
This article attempts to highlight what is being done to address these issues, and how technology companies and recruiters can potentially work in partnership with educational establishments and the government to become part of the solution.
Coding on the curriculum:
Last September the UK government implemented a landmark and unprecedented change to the school curriculum. Abolishing the traditional Information Technology content in favour of digital skills in computer science and digital literacy. The then Education Secretary Michael Gove called these reforms as ‘essential’ to give pupils the best possible start to their future.
This shift has required comprehensive retraining of all teaching staff in both primary and secondary schools across the country. The progression of the learning programme is intended to ensure that all students leaving education at 16 will be digitally literate, which is defined as:
“Being able to use, express and develop their ideas through information and communication technology”
In addition, children will also learn the latest developments in internet safety ensuring that they can protect themselves online. Many see this transition as part of the solution to ensure pupils are well equipped with life skills that can translate into careers.
Access for everyone:
This step change is excellent news for preparing the next generation of talent coming through, but what about the people who went to school twenty years ago? Evidently we can’t turn back the clock, but it’s never too late for those who are interested in pursuing a career in technical services, security, administration or and analysis.
Whether starting out from scratch or just refining skills, many potential candidates are turning their hand at self-taught methods. In the past couple of years, online ‘up-skilling’ sites have gained traction whereby courses are written by professionals working in web design, development, application deployment, user experience etc. Courses like these offer the flexibility to continue to earn whilst you learn as they can be learned anywhere, anytime, allowing for the progression from a hobbyist to a candidate. One of the key advantages over traditional courses and learning mechanisms is that this informal learning is far more likely to be up to date with the latest in-demand technological developments. Thus, perhaps the first statement by code.org quoted in the introduction of the article is misleading. Maybe the fundamental ways people learn have to adapt to survive as well as the potential candidates willingness to take on these new skills.
Public perceptions of technology companies often portray IT professionals as geeky, white, male and socially ill-prepared. This popular culture view of working in the industry needs to change in order to attract a more diverse mix of candidates. On average the gender split in the largest enterprise technology companies, including Google and Apple, is 70% male, 30% female, of which around 60% are white.
How do you solve a problem like diversity and stereotypes? It will take a long time for these companies to address the systemic issues affecting their ability to attract disparate talent pools, it is one of education as well as equal opportunity. If everyone is educated to the same level of understanding then there is an equal playing field but until that point, things cannot evolve. We must employ individuals on merit, skills and culture fit; not gender.
Furthermore, working in technology, contrary to popular belief, is not all about coding. Much emphasis has recently been put on the importance of everyone knowing a little bit of code, with high profile politicians and celebrities showing their hand to help the cause. However, like Engineering and Medicine, there are multiple industry facets that incorporate design techniques, maths, testing and business analytics.
Three things ultimately need to change; raising awareness, increasing participation and opening up opportunities of careers in technology. Scope, generational and gender diversity also need to vastly improve in the tech sector and wider and is a combined effort both now and in the future.
Although more behind the curve on the educational developments, the US is leading the global charge in terms of pairing technology enablers with appropriate government initiatives. The Clinton Global Initiative ‘Change the Ratio’ partnered up with a number of US tech start-up foundations to inspire 150,000 young women into careers in technology. To help build on this momentum, more partnerships like this need to be set-up across all facets of the recruitment cycle. That way, technology won’t just change the ratio, it will have the potential to change the world as we know it.
I would like to conclude with an open question – could your recruitment firm or company do more to help educate and empower people into a career in technology? The issue is not just one for teachers and politicians to address, it is one for us all to tackle.
Author: Carl Jones is Founder and Managing Director of online IT skills testing company Technically Compatible. A bespoke software solution for recruiters looking to hire top technical talent. Follow Technically Compatible @TechCompatible.