The issue of a software development skills shortage and how the next generation can fill this gap is a hotly debated topic. This quiet revolution has suddenly become big news and rightly so. But who is failing who here? And what part should educators and the IT industry itself play in helping to bridge the gap?
The UK Council of Professors and Heads of Computing conservatively predicts that demand for IT professionals will increase by up to 15% in the next eight years.
Software development is one of the top five most in-demand jobs globally. Big data alone could create around 4.4 million jobs by 2015 but only one-third of these positions will be filled. Meanwhile, the number of students aiming for jobs in the industry has fallen by 50% since 2001.
Put simply, the chasm between supply and demand is leaving the UK short of the specialist skills needed to drive the digital media economy, innovation and export.
Michael Gove MP has finally responded to Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s criticism that the UK focuses on teaching how to use software rather than how it’s made, and we’re due to see Computer Science roll-out in the 2014 curriculum.
However, the launch of this ‘Year of Code’ by the government was met with a degree of scepticism and resentment. Whilst it is good to drive young interest, perhaps telling the world we’re going to get kids coding is seen as devaluing the profession itself. Either way, the fact remains that 90% of the population doesn’t understand or can’t code.
This year pupils will learn code from Year 1 and by Key Stage 3 are expected to be proficient in more than two programming languages and apply them to creative projects. Brilliant! But there are a few big issues.
A survey by MyKindaCrowd found 74% of ICT teachers don’t think they have the skills to teach computer science and 69% feel the government won’t provide enough support to deliver the subject. In fact, many schools don’t have an ICT specialist teacher. Is this chicken and egg? Cart before horse? Or simply really poor planning, great in theory but flawed in practice?
Overseas, primary schools in Estonia have already successfully introduced computer programming lessons into the weekly timetable and anyone who knows first-hand how passionate young children feel about apps and handheld devices recognises that this as a huge opportunity to inspire them early.
Yes, we need to inspire youngsters in the creative language of the future, coding, but we must do it in a way that is relevant and appropriate to business, making students as ‘work ready’ as the education system can.
Indeed, members of the Corporate IT Forum have suggested there is too much focus on coding within the new curriculum and that there should be greater breadth to the subject.
After all, team work is at the core of agile development and the government is looking for a more code informed society from the younger generation up. And that is what we need, a generation of coders with business acumen to drive our future prosperity.
With the government’s equal focus on bridging the gap between education and the commercial world through supported apprenticeships, surely there are already processes in place to really harness the commercial and education alliance?
This could deliver support for the 96% of teachers who welcome business help to hone their computer science teaching skills and knowledge at the same time as giving industry what it wants; work-ready individuals and more of them, fast.
The technology industry itself moves rapidly and new languages become legacy in the same way that IT products have a lifecycle and this presents even more reason for the education and commercial worlds to pool resources and experience.
If teachers don’t feel confident delivering lessons, why not bring industry in to help do the job? Ultimately it’s our collective futures that stand to benefit, even if it means adopting new methods of direct hands-on teaching and working together.
Coding is a highly-skilled occupation, which can’t be learnt overnight- and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Professionals will tell you they are learning every day because the industry is constantly adapting and evolving. This is part of its attraction.
We would all be naive to expect society to be confident in its knowledge and ability to code within a couple of years. This is why ‘The Year of Code’ should be reworked and renamed the ‘Generation of Code’ since this initiative should be regarded as a long-term plan to ensure our country’s skills grow at a healthy rate, alongside the industry’s desire to expand, rather than a quick fix and a headline.
We have a recession busting growth sector that cannot find skilled workers, a generation that needs to be inspired, a government that must prove its credentials in education and a computer science community that has the desire to share knowledge. Why aren’t we all working together to make this happen?
Sourced from Neil Tonkin, head of development at Mercato Solutions