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Who trains the techies? Why the UK education system is not geared for tech careers

Young black girl in an IT lesson looking at a computer monitor with other female students

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Hannah Birch, Managing Director for Digital at Node4, delves into exactly what can be done to plug this critical gap.

THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT THE UK TECHNOLOGY SECTOR IS BOOMING – IN FACT, TECHUK PREDICTS THAT THE SECTOR IS EXPECTED TO ADD £41.5 BILLION TO THE UK ECONOMY BY 2025.

Whilst this is great news for the nation, we cannot guarantee that this boom will continue for years to come if our current generation of students are not aspiring into this industry. This concern is already manifesting itself as a skills shortage, and as 95% of employers have struggled to find adequately trained candidates in the past year, it is no exaggeration to expect this to worsen.

Hannah Birch, Managing Director for Digital at Node4

In this article, Hannah Birch, Managing Director for Digital at Node4, delves into exactly what can be done to plug this critical gap.

As the Managing Director for Digital at Node4, Hannah Birch leads the group’s Digital Business. Prior to Node4, Birch spent 11 years at Accenture where she led the company’s UK Technology Business for Insurance and was a member of the Technology Leadership Team for the UK & Ireland. She has also held leadership positions at Fujitsu & Computacenter and was responsible for creating and leading high-performing teams, executing business and technology transformations and driving technology innovation.

START THEM YOUNG

IT and Computer Sciences were studied by only 1.4% of UK students in 2020, suggesting that these topics, and ultimately the tech sector, are not being encouraged as much as they perhaps should be. Regardless of the reasons for this small percentage in subject uptake, what it does demonstrate is the need for a more concerted effort from both the IT sector and education providers to ensure that students see a career in technology as accessible and exciting.

The Government has started to acknowledge that there are new pathways to encourage young people in tech. With additional funding for T-Levels, students are able to learn technical skills in a more vocational setting, which in turn is more applicable to the world of work. If schools are able to demonstrate to their students that the traditional pipeline of school, to college, to university doesn’t have to be the only option for a career in tech, then they will better engage those who prefer to learn in a different way. There are many avenues into a career in the tech sector, and not all routes lead to university. By showcasing the variety of pathways students can take to enter the tech sector, the industry will become more accessible and more inclusive to students from a variety of learning backgrounds.

BUSINESSES, BE BETTER

Businesses have a role to play in this too. As more young people enter the workforce, organisations should be more open minded about the qualifications that lead a candidate to apply. Businesses should look beyond the Oxbridge or Russell Group university names, or the first-class degrees. Instead, businesses should be vying for talent that is coming through specific non-university coding qualifications, or experience through apprenticeships. Not only will the feed into making the sector accessible for everyone, it will also mean businesses suddenly have access to a much larger pool of capable candidates.

Equally, those already in the industry can play their part to inspire the next generation. Mentors should take the lead and actively work with local schools and colleges. By giving talks, running interactive sessions, and offering several work experience and placements each year, they can make a big impact on inspiring and encouraging the next generation of talent into the industry.

As university fees continue to increase, apprenticeships are becoming increasingly more popular. Mutually benefiting both parties, apprentices can learn on the job while businesses have the

opportunity to train and mould their trainees. Regardless of approach, by showing that there are new and exciting opportunities worth striving for, businesses are encouraging students to consider their future careers in tech. These young people have the potential to become the tech leaders of tomorrow and change the industry for the better.

Whilst investing in the future is important, businesses can also make positive changes today. Ensure that your organisation is encouraging a culture where every employee is heard and is given the opportunity to progress at the same pace. When representation can be seen all the way to the C-suite, the next generation are given role-models to look up to, and the reassurance that their talent is wanted and valued within an industry that may otherwise seem out of their limits.

DIVERSITY PAYS DIVIDENDS

Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that we can always be doing more to encourage students from minority backgrounds. With emerging technology such as AI becoming the forefront of the industry, it’s vital that everyone is able to contribute to these new technologies, regardless of their background. The technology we build will be formed from, and optimally serve, the people that created it. If not, we will only exacerbate the divides we already see in the industry, creating platforms that bar marginalised peoples from easily using their services. In doing so, this will continue to disincentivise these groups from joining the technological workforce.

BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE

Overall, it is important to remember that regardless of your position in your current organisation, you still have the ability to influence change. If you are able to discuss your career with a young person, they are immediately shown a new avenue to explore, and might just become one of the next leaders in tech. If we can do this, the sector will have a bright future ahead.

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