Addressing the tech skills gaps starts at school: How improving accessibility to coding will make a big difference
A recent report by the UK government suggested that strengthening and supporting digital ecosystems could add another £41.5bn to the economy by 2025 and support 678,000 new jobs. Supporting data skills and coding throughout education should be a key part of the school curriculum for young people in order to address the skills gap in the long term.
Theoretically, coding is more accessible than ever before. Nowadays, all that’s needed is a computer and a connection to the internet; these are both now more common than they’ve ever been.
In reality, ensuring accessibility is much more complex than that. The issue is not that young people don’t want to work in tech, it’s that they aren’t presented with it as a viable career path at school or introduced to it in the right way. Making young people aware of the need for coding skills, and of what they can achieve through coding, is a great place to start.
There are a number of key areas that should be addressed in order to tackle the technical skills gap from the ground up.
1. Present a career in coding as not only viable, but exciting
Jobs are in high demand and a career in coding can be lucrative, so addressing the skills shortage should start early. However, young people might not be drawn in by the promise of a high salary. In presenting coding to young people, make sure to highlight its potential and what can be achieved with it.
The potential of code is limitless, whether it’s coding the next rover that lands on Mars, perfecting the self-driving car or creating the next viral video game. You could literally create something that changes the world and makes history.
In broadening understanding of coding, it should also become clear that it’s a constant in all industries. Being able to code doesn’t mean you’re confined to a career at a technology organization.
Coding should be held not just as a viable career option, but as a job that rewards creativity, collaboration and persistence, and gives people the chance to make a positive impact on the world.
2. Early experiences of coding should be visual and rewarding
Introduce young people to coding by using visual tools like games. After a lot of hard work, the end result should be something tangible that they can feel proud of. For example, tools for teaching coding in primary education, like Scratch, are useful for getting children to focus on the potential of their character within a game and avoid getting bogged down in the details.
Once hooked, young people can then be introduced to the many real-world applications of coding, like creating tools that can track people’s health. Using tools like Raspberry Pi is a good place to start. Then in secondary school, there’s room to move into tools that more realistically reflect a career in coding, like the Logo programming language.
3. The lonely coder is an outdated stereotype
There’s a general perception that coding is a job that you do on your own and that it's quite isolated. In reality, the best work is done in teams and most of your time is spent as a crucial part of a much wider set-up.
A key part of getting more young people into coding is by introducing and promoting it as a career built on collaboration. While the more granular coding skills are important, it’s essential that these are balanced with communication skills that ensure team success.
In fact, soft skills are considered increasingly important when it comes to hiring decisions for coding roles, so those who enjoy interacting with others are very much in demand. STX Next’s Global CTO Report recently found that 53 percent of CTOs prioritize soft skills over technical skills.
4. Coding isn’t Math 2.0
Math has always been a polarizing subject amongst young people. Presenting coding to young people as an extension of their math lessons is a quick way to ensure half the room stops listening. But a career as a coder isn’t just for students that excel in math. It’s a career that rewards skills like communication, collaboration and adaptability.
Coding actually shares more similarities with a language class than it does math, in that it’s a skill that takes time and a lot of practice, and is ultimately incredibly rewarding. Research from software firm KX has shown that among students aged 16-23, nearly half see coding skills as being just as important as foreign language skills for future career prospects, and that 41 percent can write, or are planning on learning to write, in at least one coding language.
Cezary Dynak, Head of Node.js at STX Next