National Coding Week 2021: addressing the digital skills gap

National Coding Week, a volunteer-led annual project that began in 2014, continues to encourage the nurturing of coding skills in order to close the skills gap within UK tech.

As with last year, this year’s campaign is encouraging libraries, schools, businesses and individuals to get involved in its Digital Skills Challenge, to develop communication, problem solving, team working and digital skills.

Participants are asked to program a device, whether this be a mini robot, drone or vacuum cleaner, to follow an obstacle course and share footage of completion on social media.

From trade bodies such as Manchester Digital, to the Government Communications Headquarters, a variety of organisations are already engaging with the campaign.

“Programming is the literacy of our generation. With digital products and services that dominate the modern world all being underpinned by code, it’s no wonder that of the 10 most-in demand skills in LinkedIn job adverts, the top seven are programming languages,” said Ian Rawlings, regional vice-president at SumTotal Systems.

“Despite increased demand, currently, less than half of UK employers believe new entrants to the workforce have the digital-skills required. This needs to change if the UK is to plug the existing skills gap and become a leader in technology.”

In this article, we explore what businesses across the UK need to consider when it comes to the ever present digital skills gap, with demand continuing to outweigh supply.

Lifelong learning

Rawlings went on to explain the importance of schemes that encourage the development of coding competency, that are accessible to participants of all ages.

“From mandatory coding teaching in schools, to initiatives such as Code First Girls and the Institute of Coding, there are so many ways to develop digital skills early on and show candidates all the benefits that coding has to offer,” he said.

“Building and developing digital skills within the current workforce will also be key as the pandemic continues to accelerate the pace of digital transformation.

“This National Coding Week, with coding fluency growing in both value and necessity, lifelong learning remains integral in future-proofing the workforce and closing the skills gap.”

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Starting small

When it comes to learning any new skill, such as coding, it is usually beneficial to start small, and aim to get better with constant practice. It is vital that a mindset built on encouraging development and learning is put in place for new and more experienced individuals alike.

“Earlier in my career, we were often criticised because every demo of ours included the line ‘with just a few lines of code.’ Ironically, that mentality is commonplace now, showing how far we’ve come in how we think about software development and its significance,” explained Jeff Keyes, vice-president of product marketing and strategy at Plutora.

“Everything has a software-defined component now, and it shows in the way the world operates today. None of that would be possible without the expert coders working tirelessly to provide top-of-the-line software and infrastructure to their organisations.

“Written code has become the foundation of every organisation, no matter the size, in a rapidly and constantly changing software landscape. A skilled team of coders is imperative to not only building that foundation, but also to put businesses in the best possible position to thrive.

“Coding has become much more than just the developer language of tech — it’s the language of business, and in turn the language of success.”

Gender diversity

There is also the issue of a lack of gender diversity in tech to think about — according to findings from Women in Digital and Woman Tech Network, only 17% of ICT specialists in Europe are female, while only 34% of STEM graduates are women.

Diversity of not only gender, but ethnicity, background and other socioeconomic factors, is key to an innovative culture, and for women learning to code in particular, a lack of this risks leaving them disengaged early on in life.

“I was raised in an engineering household and lucky enough to go to a school that encouraged girls to take GCSE and A-Level science – but then again, it was an all-girls school,” commented Angela Garland, escalations engineer at Content Guru.

“We had plenty of female science teachers and role models supporting us. Sadly, I don’t think this is typical of the education system. By the time I reached university, our mechanical engineering bachelors was just 10% female. This has to change.

“We need to do much more to encourage young girls with a passion for science, coding and technology to study STEM courses – both at younger school ages and further on into higher education – and to pursue careers in these exciting and rewarding fields. The stark gender divide means it’s often challenging for women working as engineers – from application engineers to mechanical engineers and cyber security engineers, women are almost always in the minority.

“My advice to women embarking on a career in technology is to keep pushing and challenging at every opportunity. The most important thing is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, speak up in large groups of men and put your ideas out there. Find an organisation that puts everyone – regardless of gender – on an equal playing field and pushes you into a role where you challenge yourself and those around you.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.

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Digital Skills Gap