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Craig Cobb, Future Talent Manager from Computacenter, discusses breaking the skills gap cycle when it comes to STEM industries and what the company is doing to help…
The skills gap represents an existential threat to the future economy and despite having been widely discussed, little has been done to address the issue. In turn, this has led many to assume it has an insignificant impact on businesses and the wider workforce, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The 2016 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report offered a damning overview of the state of the digital skills gap in the UK, shedding light on what can only be termed a growing crisis, involving a severe shortage of qualified professionals throughout the tech industry. What this means for businesses, is lower productivity and a loss of agility and innovation. More concerning, is the effect on the national economy, which is likely to suffer a significant disadvantage compared to the rival European markets leading to lower investment and maybe even the migration of organisations out of the UK.
A vicious cycle
The majority of today’s mitigation strategies are primarily focused on helping businesses to keep the lights on. Whilst providing a short term reprieve, they only add to the negative cycle and drive further diminishment of talent across the technology sector. Whilst organisations are fighting over the limited pool of skilled engineers, technicians, programmers, designers and everyone down to passionate STEM teachers, no-one is paying attention to the big picture, which is how to encourage more people to develop the core skills that will make them an asset to businesses in the near and more distant future.
The situation in the UK is critical and we need long-term solutions. At Computacenter, we have realised that the solution lies in early education and the nurturing of the youth of today to encourage them to become the technology leaders of tomorrow. Though schools are taking on board the growing requirements for modern education initiatives that embrace new learning pathways (T-levels are a great example), it’s clear that we – as an industry – need to do more to support students with further opportunities for progression outside of traditional university routes.
A big part of this challenge surrounds changing negative perceptions of the technology industry. According to a recent study from fashion e-commerce group YOOX Net-a-Porter (YNAP), young women in particular don’t see the opportunities on offer from roles in and related to tech and IT. The data revealed that perceptions of the industry as disconnected from broader verticals and requiring IT heavy skills and knowledge are negatively impacting intake numbers.
Worse still, many of the available support programmes in the UK have been traditionally concentrated in and around the South East of England, leaving the abounding talent from the North, Scotland and Wales left largely untapped.
Laying the foundations
To make a significant and lasting difference, it’s necessary to extend support programmes beyond the classroom. At Computacenter we’re working to start a movement within the technology industry whereby companies work together with education institutions to ensure that students are both aware of the opportunities on offer from, in and around tech, and able to access these development pathways.
We’re already working with students between the ages of 13 and 22 to get young, capable and engaged candidates thinking about technology and how it can help them to find fulfilling careers across a broad array of sectors. For them it’s about opening doors and personal and professional growth. For the tech industry and indeed the wider UK economy, it’s about cultivating a new generation of agile, multi-skilled, creative thinkers who can bring new perspectives to STEM disciplines. As part of our initiatives for younger students, we’re offering a broad programme consisting of structured work experience placements, interview preparation, employability workshops, and presentations in schools to highlight the importance of STEM in career development. We’ve also started a volunteer STEM ambassador programme in the North of England, which will allow us to take the success we’ve seen so far to help boost the Northern power house.
To continue that momentum, we’ve established a strong apprenticeship programme for school leavers which is creating opportunities across the country for those who want valid alternatives to university. The benefits of the programme are clear – we have hired a significant number of our apprentices, establishing a much broader talent pool with greater diversity in skill sets and as an impressive side note, we’ve managed to attract 38 per cent more women between 2016 and 2018 as a result!
Whilst there is a significant gold mine of talent in school leavers, we also recognise the role of graduates in driving tech related fields forward and as such we’re working towards offering degree apprenticeship programmes in conjunction with nationally recognised universities. Our existing graduate and associate programmes offer university leavers the opportunity to develop invaluable business skills to complement their tech knowledge and we’re encouraging more applications from the wider spectrum of disciplines to further increase diversity and creativity within our company and the wider sector.
Thankfully, today’s students have a multitude of options available to help them develop critical skills that will ensure their success whilst providing the future job market with the talent required to support an increasingly digital economy. However, if we expect young people to leverage these opportunities, the whole industry must work together to actively invest in encouraging students to change their views of IT-related careers and to educate them around the available routes for development.
At Computacenter, we’re passionate about helping young people to realise their potential and we firmly believe that rivalry between tech companies for skilled professionals is not conducive to developing the talent needed to sustain the future UK economy. It’s time for the technology industry to recognise that collaboration will be the key to nurturing new talent. Through active engagement with students; highlighting and creating new opportunities whilst encouraging greater interest in STEM subjects, businesses can begin solving the skills-gap crisis with home-grown talent, whilst ensuring that all young people in the UK have the opportunity to obtain rewarding jobs and pursue successful careers.
What Computacenter are doing to boost STEM subjects:
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