The new GCSE format: bridging the STEM skills gap?

Good GCSE results are no guarantee to securing job offer, especially in the tech sector.

Demonstrating further digital, transferable skills, such as being able to speak the language of software development and understanding how applications and solutions are built, will be crucial for candidates looking to stand out from the competition – and educators need to get on board.

>See also: Number of girls taking GCSE computing doubles

Joe Nash, student program manager at GitHub, commenting on this suggests how collaborative platforms such as GitHub can play a key role in equipping students with the skills they need to stand out.

“Great results or not, ICT skills are crucial for modern life. Yes, good GCSE grades can secure a college placement, but computer skills are an essential requirement for almost all jobs, and most people neglect them after school. The good news is that in the field of technology, qualifications aren’t needed to continue progressing ICT skills. In fact, people can build their confidence in computing by simply practising themselves – whether this is using social media, spreadsheets, or developing more technical skills such as coding.”

There is a breadth of information and resources available, based on popular coding devices such as the Raspberry Pi. Collaborative, online working in this way can offer an alternative path for talented self-taught individuals to make their mark on the sector. Being able to speak the language of software development, and understanding how applications and solutions are built, will help students develop and maintain their computing skills and stand out from the competition when they face it.”

>See also: IT skills severely lacking

Indeed, as students prepare to get their GCSE later today, the need for continued development in STEM-based subjects will be critical in laying the foundations for their future careers.

Neil Owen, director, Robert Half Technology UK said that “STEM-related subjects are an important part of the future of our economy. With the UK in a skills crisis and recent research revealing that 92% of HR directors are finding it challenging to hire skilled professionals, students getting their results today should think about how they can lay the foundations for their future careers.”

“The requirements of the labour market are evolving – and quickly. The next generation has the ability to bring a fresh perspective, new methods of communications and a technically-savvy nature to the working world. With the battle for jobs set to intensify over the next decade, students who combine technical aptitude with softer skills, such as communication and teamwork, will be highly sought after.”

>See also: Number of students taking up computing classes a major concern

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is trying to address the ongoing STEM skills battle, and addressing what it calls the 40,000 STEM shortfall through its IT Futures programme.

The latest initiative from TCS is a week-long work experience, attended by more than 400 students in London. Digital Explorers Experience Work, in partnership with MyKindaFuture, was launched as part of TCS’ ongoing efforts to address the 40,000 STEM graduate shortfall currently faced by the UK.

With last weeks A-level results revealing that only around 7,500 students in England took A-level computing and this week’s GCSE results likely to reinforce this, the UK is still falling well short of the 40,000 level needed to address the worrying digital skills shortage.

Launching in the capital at London’s South Bank University and continuing in Birmingham in November, Digital Explorers will host 400 year 10-13 UK pupils at each venue in a week-long work experience programme with TCS executives, entrepreneurs, policy makers and industry business leaders. From Internet of Things, to Artificial Intelligence, to vital interview skills, all attendees were immersed in the world of technology in order to better their career opportunities and help prepare them for the workplace of tomorrow.

>See also: Women in IT figures indicate how much work still needs to be done

A survey conducted at the London event by TCS revealed that 80% of attendees felt they had benefitted from the experience while 97% felt that technology will be important for jobs in the future. More importantly, 91% thought that digital skills and technology in the classroom will become more important in the future, with more than two thirds (67%) stating that they would get more from learning if more technology was used in lessons.

Yogesh Chauhan, director of Corporate Responsibility at TCS said: “Adapting to the digital economy is an on-going challenge, one that cannot be addressed by one generation. The younger generations are digital natives and have an innate enthusiasm for technology, but there is often little connection with how this technology is made or the impact it can have. Through our IT Futures programme, we want to show young people exactly that.”

The recent A-level results also revealed that less than 10% (9.8) of those that studied A-level computing were female. There is a clear and ongoing imbalance in the technology industry but TCS is addressing this problem too. At the Digital Explorers London event, more than a third (34%) of students were female, a proportion also reflected in TCS’ global workforce (35%).

>See also: Young women don’t get support they need to pursue tech careers

Digital Explorers, as part of the IT Futures programme is just one of a number of initiatives by TCS to address the STEM skills shortage and issues relating to this including gender equality and diversity. “

“We are dedicated to helping to create the digital skills that the country will need to thrive in the long-term. However, this is something that the UK Government and businesses alike must embed at every level of education, from school through to employment, if it is to develop a workforce with the skills needed to succeed in the global digital economy,” said Yogesh Chauhan, Director of Corporate Responsibility at TCS.

The new format

Concerns about this years GCSEs have raised, regarding the impact of the reformed examination system on results.

With a revised numerical marking system, this years’ GSCEs are reportedly the toughest exams since the 80s.

George Brasher, UK MD at HP reflects on the impacts the new system might have on students’ development and the potential spillover effect on the widening digital skills gap in the UK.

“This year’s GCSE exams have been described as ‘the hardest since O-levels’. It is critical to maintain the highest standards in education but we mustn’t put students off further studies as a result. The UK’s widening digital skills gap cannot afford another setback. The STEM worker shortfall is estimated to be at 40,000 each year in the UK and while more jobs are being created to meet the shifting demands of the digital economy, we must ensure a strong pipeline of candidates for the future. Considering the roaring success students have had this year, a drop in STEM university entries would be a huge step backwards for the UK. The digital economy is critical for growth, innovation and productivity, and the technology industry has a responsibility to partner with government and academia to encourage digital learning and close the knowledge gap.”


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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