Education is failing to plug the digital skills gap. How can we help students into the sector?

December 17, 2021
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The digital skills gap presents a major problem to the economy. According to Salesforce the cumulative cost to 14 G20 countries could total as much as $11.5 trillion. In a digital first world, there are simply not enough people to power transformation and growth across the sector.

So how are can we meet this challenge and provide the talent to keep driving forward? Over a 10-year span the numbers of young people studying STEM subjects has increased, but old problems persist. Numbers of girls studying STEM remains low and attracting a diverse workforce is difficult. 

This is all against a backdrop of ever increasing demand; there are hundreds of thousands of vacancies, with an increase of 42% in the total from 2019 to 2021 reported by Tech Nation.

What’s clear is that our current approach to education is failing. It’s either not able to provide the capacity to meet demand, or it’s not responsive to the demands of a sector that’s ever changing. Could adopting peer-to-peer learning help?

01 Founders claim to be a new type of software engineering school, training students from zero experience to being highly skilled full-stack developers in two-years. Their courses are campus based (with the first campus based in London) and uses a peer-to-peer education model.

“The benefit compared to a traditional model, is that this model is much more driven by learners so they are in control of their learning. They have full agency over what they’re learning, how they’re learning, and they can specialise on their interests…” 

CEO Joysy John makes the argument that peer-to-peer is far more responsive and encourages greater collaboration. The students don’t sit in classes and are encouraged to work together. This is a totally different approach to traditional academic institutions; it will be interesting to see how quickly their model can scale.

Many people don’t make it into the technology sector because they aren’t supported through their education. Parents and teachers can be guilty of dissuading many young people from studying STEM subjects. Even when a student does choose to, they need support.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to Roha Raheel, part of the information security awareness team at Sainsbury’s. She only studied Cyber Security with Forensics after going through clearing. At first she’d been set to follow in her sister's footsteps until a last minute realisation she wasn’t following her own path. However she still needed support from mentors to keep her invested.

“It was difficult mind you; three months into the course I was sat in my lecturer's office telling her I was ready to drop out of university.”

Roha had gotten 80% on an exam at the time, and went on to graduate with first class honours, but she still suffered from imposter syndrome. It is critical that people close to learners encourage them to stick with STEM subjects, even if their own knowledge is limited.

There is a suspicion of technology which is hard to shake. A recent study of more than 12,000 families across Europe by GoStudent and Kantar revealed that only 33% of parents in the UK were in favour of AI being used in education, despite the clear benefits that are brought to the learning process through the understanding data brings to the process. That bias against technology will push students away from STEM subjects to more traditional subjects. 

Ultimately we need to support students on their path to a technology career, and rethink how education is delivered. Roha remarked that “technology changes every day, our course modules do not”. That perception will make it harder for those courses to be seen as relevant. If we’re going to close the digital skills gap then change needs to start much sooner than the point of entry to the job market.

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