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Tech leaders call for the tech industry and educators to address the digital skills gap

The Open University Business Barometer reveals that nearly half (47%) of UK employers are struggling to attract talent with the right IT and digital skills, despite the crucial and growing role tech plays in our economy.

Each year, National STEM/STEAM day celebrates the importance of science, technology, engineering, art and maths across all industries and why it’s more important now than ever to and get current students from all education levels, and even professionals, to take up these subjects as a core subject or additional course, yet we continue to see a huge gender divide, with areas like cyber-security remaining highly male dominated.  Unless we increase the diversity of the talent pool, these shortages are set to continue.

UK Tech News spoke to tech industry leaders, who shared their views and vision on how the industry can tackle the digital skills gap and support the future of the tech industry.

Driving passion for STEM starts at school

With technology being involved in all industries, April Taylor, Vice President at ConnectWise Manage says,

“It’s great that the right education is available, especially to younger aged kids because now they’re getting more exposure early on to potential careers within the tech sector.

“Technology is more pervasive and the exposure to coding and product development is there for a lot of kids, so it’s a matter of getting them excited about taking this recreational or academic assignment and turning it into a career.”

Michelle Fitzgerald, Director, Demand Gen & Events at Plutora agrees with this:

“The best way to advance the industries that rely on STEM knowledge in the future is to encourage children – both boys and girls – now to take an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at a young age.” She adds, “Diversifying the STEM workforce will ensure that technology will continue to revolutionise the world around us and bring positive impact to a broader range of industries.”

Joseph Feiman, Chief Strategy Officer at WhiteHat Security highlights the need to bring STEM learning inside and outside the classroom to drive more opportunities for children.

“While schools are striving to ensure that their STEM curriculums are more robust, they can and should also leverage learning opportunities outside of the classroom to enhance learning, such as after-school clubs or programs, camps or tutoring.”

STEM skills are needed across the board

“Technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives – from online shopping to our privacy and security, autonomous cars to health and genomics – and that’s just to name a few,” discusses Krishna Subramanian, COO at Komprise.

“In light of this, STEM education is no longer just for students who want to pursue an engineering career, as there are so many more industries that need tech skills. It is vital in nearly every career from law and public policy, to medicine, to engineering, and the arts.”

The digital skills gap

In the UK alone there are an estimated 600,000 technology vacancies, with 52% business claiming it is hard to find the talent they need to fill the roles. Josh Flinn, Director of Product Strategy & Innovation at Cybera reinforces that, “Days like STEM/STEAM day serve as an important reminder to providing accessible resources and opportunities to encourage students develop their STEM skillsets. Together with the support of business these initiatives will help close the skill-shortage gap.”

Alan Conboy, Office of the CTO at Scale Computing discusses the digital skills we now require.

“Technology is constantly evolving and as such we need to remember that in order to continue to develop and innovate, we require fresh ideas and new skills. This is why days like STEM day, are important, because globally we are suffering from a digital skills shortage in areas including AI, hybrid, edge, cloud-based development and management. Both educators and industry leaders need to support and encourage more children and young adults into developing their STEM skills and show the students of today that they could be the CTOs of tomorrow.”

Businesses themselves need to get involved to help drive STEM skills. Ketna Makwana, HR Manager at Node4 highlights how they are doing this:

“Node4 works with colleges and schools to encourage them to understand what it is like to work in technology and the ways in which they can add value. We arrange college talks and also reach out to local schools to support work experience. Yes, there’s a skills gap that needs addressing, and to help resolve this, it’s important that businesses look for individuals that are interested in STEM and help them to grow and develop their skills.”

Getting girls into STEM careers

Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft discusses educating people to challenge their unconscious biases and promote STEM as a subject for everyone.

“Whilst it is of course disappointing to see the gender gap continue in these subjects, what is more concerning is that these results are reflective of the lack of female role models in technology and STEM as a whole.” She adds, “There is an opportunity here for a paradigm shift that we are simply not taking. That’s why the onus is on parents, teachers and business leaders to show that there is a place for girls in STEM – they need role models and sponsors to encourage them to take the path.”

Yumi Nishiyama, Director of Global Services at Exabeam emphasises addressing the gender gap in cybersecurity,

“We need to continue encouraging females in STEM education and build more support structures for women throughout their careers. Tech and cybersecurity can have a bad rap for being male-dominated, which can be a deterrent for women looking for diverse environments.” She continues, “My biggest piece of advice for women of all ages would be: ‘do not be afraid to use your voice.’ As women, we bring different ideas and strengths. Be confident in what you’re good at, pursue what you’re passionate about, and let that be the focal point, not the stereotypes.”

Connie Stack, Chief Strategy Officer at Digital Guardian says,

“Education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), is the key to addressing many of society’s greatest challenges. Recent research from Microsoft and KRC Research found that confidence in STEM wanes as children get older – especially in girls – but interest can be recovered when subjects are related to real-world people and problems. At Digital Guardian we’re trying to do just that by sponsoring the United Way STEM program, including hosting girls and boys for a cyber security training camp every summer.”

Continuous personal development is key as tech continues to evolve

Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds says,

“Taking up STEM subjects when you’re young is a great way to get into a thriving industry, but the learning doesn’t stop there! In the public sector, technology professionals need to keep up with training to not only ensure they’re up to date on the technologies that can benefit their sector, but also for their own career development. Rather than seeing this training as time wasted away from their job, according to the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2019, public sector tech pros enjoy training in the workplace, with 49% finding it informative, 44% saying it’s engaging and interactive, and 20% reporting it’s not long enough.”

Rich Pugh, Chief Data Scientist & Co-founder, Mango Solutions discusses the need for specialist skills,

“In the last five years, demand for specialist skills like data science and data engineering has increased significantly, mainly due to the growth in adoption by organisations of data-driven strategies to derive business value. Despite the demand for these skills, however, educators are still only offering a more traditional mix of academic subjects at primary and secondary education level.

“It’s increasingly important that we educate young people beyond just ‘performing’ data science and focus more on the high-level concepts, mechanics and language of data science that will prepare young people for a workforce that is increasingly based on data-driven approaches and operating models.”

Svenja de Vos, CTO at Leaseweb further adds,

“Though the adaptation of technology aspects may not be happening fast enough, it’s still vital to have a solid technology foundation such as a computer science or software degree. Keeping up with the tech revolution, however, means that STEM learning shouldn’t stop there. So while we as a business strive to ensure that our employees stay as up to speed as possible through group training on specific tools or languages key to both the business and skills development, we strongly encourage students, graduates and technological evangelists wanting to enter the industry to proactively seek out opportunities to learn advanced digital skills. Continually developing yourself will make you stand out to prospective employers.”

With so many leaders championing diversity, talent development and cultural change, there is definitely hope for the future.