Tech talent in a world of accelerating change

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This guest blog by David Rai, CEO at Sparta Global, originally appeared as part of Tech Uk's #techUKSmarterState campaign week 

With driverless cars, drones delivering packages and smart assistants now offering counsel for every human thought, we are living in exciting times. Dubbed the next industrial revolution, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work.

The evolution of technology has inevitably evoked fear amongst workforces that peoples’ jobs could be replaced, but there is no reason to believe that the need for humans to create and manage new technologies will decrease. There are a huge number of technology jobs that did not exist ten years ago, and one study from Gartner Research states that while 1.8 million jobs may be lost by 2020, 2.3 million new ones will be created.

The future of work has radically changed, so why hasn’t our approach to education?

Businesses have to adapt to new technical challenges and opportunities. Therefore future business leaders must have the ability to understand technology, respond to change and approach problem solving head-on. Yet this talent is in short supply.

In an article for Wired, Yuval Noah Harari - author of Sapiens - explained how a baby born today will be thirty-something in 2050 and – should they make it to 2100 – could be an active citizen of the 22nd century. He asked, “What should we teach that baby that will help him or her survive and flourish in the world of the 22nd century? What kind of skills will he or she need in order to get a job, understand what is happening around them and navigate the maze of life?”

It is critical educators/training providers react to the changing demands of society and appropriately prepare people for work.

Mind the gap: the UK’s digital skills crisis

There is now a shortfall of 40,000 people with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills required by the growing UK digital community. When there is a lack of workers that are trained and prepared for particular problems, economies suffer. A UK government study stated the digital skills gap as a “major risk to business growth, innovation and broader societal development.”

In a post-Brexit future, the inability to import qualified workers from outside of the UK - to bridge the country’s skills gap - could pose a danger to the UK’s future as a competitive place to set up a technology business or base a European hub.

 

In 2017, just 7,600 students took computing at A-level in England – with less than ten per cent being women. At university the story isn’t much better. Students studying technology or IT-related degrees are faced with outdated curriculums that cannot keep pace with industry changes. Take Agile - a key methodology in modern IT working environments that is still not taught at university.

In the future it is hoped universities can diversify and expand their curriculum to better meet the demands of the modern workplace, but graduates today are lacking the tools and knowledge to excel.

A new take on education

The millennial generation has a desire for immediate gratification and feeling unprepared for a role can be frustrating. This is where training academies – a steppingstone between higher education and employment – could be a credible addition to a university education and the gateway to an efficient workforce. Specialist training academies can upskill young people through specific job-related training and prepare them to hit the ground running. 

As we edge closer to leaving the EU, it is crucial UK tech talent is cultivated in this way. Only urgent action from industry, teaching establishments and the government can prevent this skills crisis from damaging the UK’s productivity and economic competitiveness.