London has become one of the world’s largest digital and technology hubs. There are now 40,000 firms in the sector that call the capital their home, and this number is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 5%.
However, last year Tech London Advocates announced that 70% of their members think that London’s technology sector is being held back by one thing: the insufficient supply of skilled workers.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology found that the technology skills gap has expanded for the ninth year in a row and it is increasingly difficult for employers to find staff. Indeed, 59% of employers said that the impending shortage would be a “threat to their business” in the UK.
According to Barclays, 27% of all job growth in London is generated by the tech and digital sector. Over 750,000 new workers will be required to fill these jobs in the UK by 2017 – these are workers that the UK simply doesn’t have.
This deficit has the potential to cost the UK economy £2bn every year.
What’s the cause of the skills gap in the UK technology sector?
It seems ironic that the younger generation has never known life without the internet - they spend an average of 27 hours a week online - yet they are not being taught how to use these skills in the workplace.
Though technology is included in our national curriculum, it is has not been covered extensively or thoroughly enough. However, technology evolves so quickly that this was always going to be something of a tall order.
What is being done to address the UK technology skills gap?
Fortunately, the government has identified the issue: a new curriculum was published in September 2013 announcing that ICT would be replaced by a new computing curriculum. What's more, in December, David Cameron announced that there will be a Computer Science GCSE launched in 2016.
In a recent survey of parents, undertaken by the BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT), 60% said they would encourage their children to pursue a career in IT. And just over half of parents would encourage their child to do an IT apprenticeship. Although currently there are few young people being educated sufficiently to enter the digital sector, parental enthusiasm and greater awareness may revise this.
Lack of support for teachers
Since September 2014 young people have been taught to code from the age of 5.
However, in order for this new education policy to work, not only does the curriculum need to change, but there must be additional training and support for teachers. The challenge is how to teach a subject that is evolving at such a rapid pace.
Many IT teachers have no knowledge of programming, social media and other new concepts; they are in need of a great deal of support, which is currently lacking.
Technology and further education
Not only are there not enough existing workers, but the students coming out of university are not up to scratch. The TLA ranked the employability of Computer Science graduates in the UK as average to poor.
On a positive note, 2014 saw the largest intake of university students accepted onto science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, an increase of 8% on the previous year. Things are hopefully beginning to move in the right direction.
However, the post-study work visa was abolished in April 2014, meaning that the UK educates many bright foreign students without the intention of utilising their subsequent expertise.
The Migration Advisory Committee has said that the UK needs to recruit product managers, senior developers, network security specialists, and data scientists from outside the EU. Although large companies are able to offer the salaries and benefits to entice foreign talent, start-ups and smaller companies are struggling to recruit staff.
Have changes to our education system come soon enough?
The short answer is no.
However, in the decade since I was at school, the tech industry has experienced an unrecognisable change - I doubt many people anticipated such rapid transformation. Few could have imagined that workers in the tech industry would be in such high demand.
Indeed, it may be the case that by the time the generation currently in education transitions into the working world, the skills they learnt at school will be redundant.
There are a multitude of factors at play regarding the skill deficit in the UK tech industry.
Firstly, our education system is lacking.
Secondly, it now falls to the tech giants in the capital to offer extra training to ensure their employees have adequate skills. More technology companies should be offering apprenticeships to support their own industry.
The British culture may also have a hand to play. Overall, we are fairly risk-averse in the UK; this translates into our career choices. We are inclined to choose secure career paths, rather than opting to work in the “risky” tech or digital sectors.
There is positive action being taken in order to address the skills deficit in the UK technology sector. We can but wait to see if it is a question of too little, too late. Certainly, we are going to be playing catch-up for many years to come.