How do we solve the IT skills shortage?
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How do we solve the IT skills shortage?

How do we solve the IT skills shortage?

Posted on 16th December 2018

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This is the first of five part blog series, trying to get to grips with the thorny issue of why there are not enough people, especially girls, studying STEM subjects in general (and tech in particular) in the numbers we need to fill all the IT jobs we have today and in the years ahead. This is such an important subject it’s vital we air it constantly, giving it the oxygen of publicity it needs if we are to make any real change.

Let’s start by looking at the numbers.  

Although the problem goes much further back, in 2015 the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee recorded that, “Only 35% of computer teachers in schools have a relevant degree and 30% of the required number of computer science teachers have not been recruited; and 13% of computer graduates are still unemployed 6 months after leaving university. This digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP.”

In October 2016, one of our marketing team attended a DigitalXtraFund conference in Glasgow. As we wrote in our blog summary of the event, “everyone agreed that while a lot of work has – and is – being done, in many respects Scotland has gone backwards in this area.  Staggeringly, over half of our councils have NO Computing Science teachers. Gillian Daly, from Highland Council, told the audience that there are only eight – soon to be only seven – Computing Science teachers in her region.”

In the same year, only 15,000 students in the UK sat a computing or ICT A-Level.  This accounted for less than 2pc of the overall exams sat and was only an increase of 500 students on the previous year - and hugely insufficient to fill the growing number of jobs being created in the technology sector.

A 2017 report by Tech Nation revealed over 50% of business owners in the UK digital tech community reported a shortage of highly skilled employees, while a quarter said sourcing talent was a major challenge. Some 97% of organisations working in STEM said they have had difficulty hiring skilled employees over the last 12 months.  In contrast, according to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills only 43pc of STEM vacancies were hard to fill in 2017.

In March this year, I wrote about the continuing problems that STEM industries in general and IT in particular have in attracting young people and especially young women.  A survey by Tech City UK of c. 1,000 young people across the UK, aged 15-21 suggests that tech was only sixth most popular career choice. 

In August 2018 the Edge Foundation published a report, claiming that the estimated 600,000 tech job vacancies cost the UK economy £63 billion a year, coincidentally, the same amount the Science and Technology Committee identified in 2015. In addition, a 2017 report by the Open University states that the UK’s overall “skills gap” costs the country more than £2 billion a year in terms of recruitment costs (higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing bills). Also in August, according to job aggregator Adzuna, there were 92,056 advertised job vacancies in the IT sector in July, a figure higher than any other industry. 

Another 500,000 digital workers needed…

In September 2018, The Times reported that Microsoft has estimated that the UK needs “another 500,000 skilled workers to fill digital roles by 2020,” and that “(in Scotland) since 2008 the number of secondary school teachers has dropped by 11%, with the number teaching maths down 15% and those teaching science by nearly 12%. The number of computer science teachers is down by nearly a quarter.” 

…but not enough computer science graduates

That said, the direction of travel, or rather the lack of travel, is clear. The Higher Education Statistics Authority figures show (see below) that there were actually more computer science graduates in 2013 than in every year since and the annual average over the last five years is only 27,269.  

HE qualifications UK by subject and sex

Even on the most optimistic forecasts and adding in every mathematical science, engineering and technology graduate, we are not going to get close to Microsoft’s estimated figure of 500,000 new jobs by 2020.  It’s clear that our schools, colleges and universities, to say nothing of parents, are not getting the message across that a career in IT is well paid and has excellent prospects.  Some of the reasons why we’re failing will be the subject of my next blogs.

Nikola Kelly, MD, Be-IT


Posted in Opinion, Recruitment News, STEM

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