Written by Graham Hunter, Executive VP, Global Sales at CompTIA
In 2021 PM Boris Johnson promised to offer £3,000 ‘premiums’ to STEM teachers who were working in disadvantages schools across the UK, with the aim to encourage more teachers to these roles, and therefore inspire more students to take STEM subjects beyond school.
The tech industry needs new talent and skills – this is no secret. However, initiatives like this are not enough to solve the problem. The real issue is the gap that exists between industry and academia. To close this gap, a more concerted and holistic approach is needed to inspire young people to enter the tech sector. This solution must also have diversity at its heart. With growing demand for high-quality teaching and instruction across the education ecosystem, government and industry must work together to level up the tech workforce.
The UK has a good opportunity here to cement its status as a tech superpower and as a country setting the standard in diversity. However, this can only happen by embracing a new approach.
Aligning with the needs of industry
Too often, what is being taught in educational institutions is not aligned with industry needs. One of the problems that arises from the gap between academia and industry is the continuing widening of the skills gap. The tech skills gap is a well-publicised issue, and desperately needs to be addressed.
This misalignment is a big problem considering that the majority of students are entering the tech industry at the end of the education process, creating a problem for prospective employees and employers alike. Without the appropriate and necessary skills, students will struggle to fulfil their potential within the industry. A lack of trainers is ultimately resulting in a lack of well-educated future professionals, particularly those with the skills essential for specialist positions in tech, such as in the cybersecurity sector.
Diversity is key
Something that has been a bugbear for the industry for some time is diversity. To bring new talent in, though, representation within the industry is essential, as if we cannot get new and different people through the door, we can’t expect to see new and different results. For example, we have to encourage more women to take STEM subjects at a sixth-form level, in order to encourage them to pursue STEM careers long-term.
Part of achieving this and ensuring that the solution is sustainable will be encouraging students to seek out industry aligned certifications and apprenticeships. At the same time, employers should be incentivised to seek out apprenticeships in their hiring practices. Encouraging employers to hire a more diverse range of candidates with different qualifications and backgrounds means that industry representation can grow, bringing new expertise.
We also need to make huge progress on training diversity, as this is often too heavily focused on certain areas. Take coding courses, for instance. These are disproportionately emphasised and are often seen as a one-stop shop, winning out over other pressing issues like governance, risk and compliance. Although these considerations carry far greater significance than coding in most real-life professional scenarios, they are not yet being accurately prioritised.
Something else that needs to be at the forefront of recruitment, engagement strategies and outreach is inclusivity. This is essential if we want to create a ‘virtuous cycle’ of education and inspire the next generation of tech trainers. Doing this is simply a case of knowing what’s out there – you can’t be what you can’t see. Students typically know about roles like doctor or lawyer they can get, but are often less aware of tech roles, let alone how future-proofed and lucrative tech careers can prove to be. To inspire the next generation of quality trainers, we need to communicate that tech options are available to everyone anywhere. Technical know-how is only valuable if knowledge is shared widely and practical skills can be reproduced. This means that the tech industry needs to be welcoming to everyone, and taking a unified approach. Government and industry must work together on a single strategy with one voice that prioritises the capability to present and translate information.
UA92 is one organisation making great strides towards boosting accessibility and closing the socio-economic divide in the tech sector. The Manchester-based higher education institution’s ‘Make It For Real’ initiative provides students with a number of benefits, including a free laptop and daily lunch to encourage those from disadvantaged backgrounds to continue their pursuit of a top-quality education.
Take action now
For candidates especially, this is a pressing issue. If nothing is done, students’ careers paths could be at risk of real damage, and they could face an uphill battle within industry. Instead of focusing purely on content delivery, there needs to be a focus on hands-on training, and training that prioritises innovation, growth and continuing professional development (CPD), even for vocational subjects. By ensuring that students receive a mix between classroom and industry, they can be sure that they are best prepared to enter industry, and that their career is on the right track.
Collaboration is essential to usher in the new generation of young learners and teachers
To take the tech industry beyond the next few years, we need new talent. Incentivising young people to explore tech roles and careers has never been more critical. To encourage more people to consider tech careers, the education ecosystem needs to take a collective, holistic approach to teaching and training. A change a mindset is what is needed to do this. This new mindset must be entirely different and should align content to the needs of industry and place CPD, communication, diversity, and inclusion at its core. Only then can we make sure we’re growing the tech industry, rather than stifling it.