Businesses must invest in students to solve the STEM software skills gap

Financial upheaval, political change and massive shifts in the jobs market that have created some severe unemployment statistics in many countries will mark out the history of a tough period for the global economy. Signalled by the financial refocus that began in earnest in late 2008, it has caused many people entering the world of work to find it difficult carving out the early stages of a career.

While there are now more positive signs of economic growth, it is undeniable that the world, and the jobs world for many people, has changed substantially in recent years.

With the ‘application economy’ increasingly driving the fortunes of many companies and changing the way many goods or services are consumed, technological progress is having a continual impact on how the world is continuing to evolve and has a large bearing on the employment market too.

But the gap between the types of skills this new economic reality needs and the skills coming into the labour market is continuing to grow. This is hardly surprising given the pace of technological change and the way many conventional ways of doing things has been disrupted, but it remains both a barrier to economic success and a big career opportunity that is there for the taking.

>See also: Encouraging STEM uptake: why plugging the skills gap starts at school

There is no easy fix, but without the right steps being taken now by the right people for the right reasons, it is a gap that may continue to grow. Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects are at the heart of the skills that the application economy is now demanding of education and the people choosing their career paths, but the requirement is broader.

We need to ensure that people coming into this changed workplace are fulfilling some fundamentally different job roles to those of the past with STEM qualifications. This requires an understanding of the commercial and operational qualities that will be demanded of them. They must also be inspired and excited by their personal and societal opportunities of the future.

In short, industry is having to reset its expectations and capabilities for the software-driven requirements of the application economy, and the workforce is going to need to do the same too.

How STEM is taught

It is common with any skills gap to point the finger at the education sector and say that subjects aren’t being taught in the way that the world of work needs. This is an unfair view of the root cause of the software-driven skills gap.

STEM topics have been taught in ever-more progressive ways since the business world became highly computerised, yet still the number of students actively wanting to take those subjects and follow technologically led career paths has continued to fall out of line with the demand for highly specific or even more general skills that previously the software industry demands, and now all businesses are coming to need in varying degrees.

There is no single culprit for the situation we now find ourselves in. If anything, the overriding factor has been the speed of upheaval in the world’s economy and the rate at which technological evolution has changed business.

Think about the way the world has changed in just the past three years, the average length of study for a higher education qualification. Now think back over the past six or seven years, to when today’s graduates were making their formative early career choices. Understanding what the world of 2015 would be like in a way that would have informed specific learning paths would have been extremely difficult.

Then there is the role that industry needs to be playing in aligning skills with its own needs. True, the business world has long done what it can to help students to understand what skills they will need to have and what those initial years in employment will be like.

Businesses in particular have highly developed graduate initiatives and alliances with colleges and universities in order to nurture and encourage talent. All of that, though, is not enough to reduce the STEM software skills gap, so, quite simply, industry is going to need to work more closely with the education sector and, by doing so, invest in the futures of students and the business world to help solve the problem.

More women needed

The number of women actively pursuing STEM careers through their study choices only compounds the challenge. The need to attract more women to IT jobs has been a clarion call for more than a decade now, yet still the qualified young people coming into this area of the jobs market are disproportionately male.

For whatever reason, women seem to be interested in STEM topics at a younger age but shy away from pursuing them with a career in mind when it comes to their education in their later teens or at a higher level.

Education can only do so much in helping women to appreciate their career opportunities and be excited about these subjects. Industry and businesses that create, offer and manage software or related services must step up further to inspire young women and give them a view of what life in this area could look like for them.

A fresh approach

We need a rethink in how the businesses that need to benefit from the skills – and the people who can benefit from those businesses through the jobs they do and the related life choices they make – can better understand each other. It is not just a case of putting more time and more money into it though, as the way in which students are engaged with industry needs to be well orchestrated and above all aligned to the specific and fast-changing needs of the application economy.

>See also: Solving the STEM conundrum to bridge the skills shortage

This means that our effort can be no quick fix, and must be agile in approach so that we can evolve in how we bridge the gap as the world continues to change around us. It is about partnership with government bodies, the education sector, voluntary bodies and development agencies that can all work together to better align teaching, understanding and, ultimately, skills development to the requirements of a more software-centric world.

It is not just about the ability to code, though this remains important of course. It is above all about engagement of students and alignment between their development and the needs of fast-changing industry.

It is time for everyone involved to step up to this challenge, to create valuable jobs for people and sustained economic success after a period of global upheaval.


Sourced from Marco Comastri, CA Technologies

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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