Poor leadership the biggest barrier to workplace flexibility

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This is a guest blog by Steve Gandy, CEO at MeetingZone.

No one should be in any doubt that technology can enable people to work together anytime, anywhere any place and on any device. But although the UK's flexible working policy has been in effect since 2014 it's clear from recent research by Censuswide and Unify  that organisations are still failing to enable employees to benefit from working remotely.

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With today's employees being able to email, access networks and manage tasks on the move - why does everyone need to be in the office all the time, at the same time? And what's really blocking the adoption of flexible working practices?

Enabling cultural change

One of the key reasons is poor leadership from many of the people who head up UK businesses. Many company leaders continue to fight against new ways of working, happily burying their heads in the sand - taking the "if I can't see 'em working, they can't be working approach." But take this decision at your peril - increasingly your competitors aren't taking the same laid back approach and you may find that you get left behind!

The reality is cultural change has to happen within an organisation to make flexibility work, and that change needs to kick in from the top. When leaders buy into the concept of flexible working, it doesn't take long for the domino effect to cascade swiftly throughout the rest of the organisation.  To engender this change, senior management need to show a real desire to use technology, train employees on it and then trust them to get on with the job.  Unless they do, all the investment in technology in the world won't have any impact.

Tech at your fingertips

Of course, we all know you can't always replace traditional 'face-to-face' interaction. And I'm not suggesting that remote working is the only way - it won't work for all businesses - but there are a lot of times when it's just not necessary to have everyone in one place.

It's about utilising the array of unified communication solutions that are already available. Collaboration technologies such as WebEx or Microsoft Lync, offer a variety of options for organisations including desktop telephony and videoconferencing 'presence' (the ability to see when someone is online and available), instant messaging, screen-sharing and interactive whiteboarding. Most of these have been around for some years and can easily replicate face-to-face communications. 

If embraced properly technology can be enabler of business change and has the potential to substantially boost to UK PLC. We've seen companies in diverse sectors like legal, construction and not for profit see immediate benefits with decisions being made on-the-fly, meetings taking place in real time and on-the-go. Many employers see a real boost in business agility, not to mention a significant reduction in the cost of travel and subsistence.

And it's all easily achievable and will make companies more effective and efficient in the long term. So come on UK leaders - time to embrace change in the way we do business now and in the future.

 

From lab to market - Part 1

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This is a guest blog from Phil Tee, chairman and CEO of Moogsoft. This is the first installment of a three-part series that speaks to navigating the challenges for tech startups in working with universities to accelerate innovation and business goals.

1.       How do tech startups consider partnership with universities and when is it valuable?

There has been a long-standing tradition of partnering between established companies and academic institutions to drive innovation. Today, this type of collaboration is booming in the US and the UK, due to policies being created in both regions by higher education authorities to foster these relationships.

However, when it comes to tech startups, the collaboration could go deeper and be more meaningful. One of the obvious reasons for the cultural disconnect is that startups (venture-backed, Silicon Valley entities, especially) are commercially motivated to pursue academic research. Universities, conversely, are bastions of domain specific knowledge looking to answer big questions and make great leaps in their respective fields. The major differentiator here is time. In the case of startups, VCs are funding 18 months of operational costs, but for researchers, that timeline barely covers pursuit of an advanced degree.

So, once this differentiation is accepted, how can these two spheres be aligned enough to make the end result resonate?

Clearly, corporate and academic partnerships can be a win-win proposition for both sectors. For tech startups, these collaborations can be a strategic addition of resources into R&D projects that they may not have bandwidth or talent internally to complete. In addition, they can add a robust recruiting pool for future staffing needs. For universities, these partnerships create an ongoing opportunity for testing the rigor of theories, or leveraging existing patents towards real-world applications. The resulting synergy is that of an engineering/design model tailored to the dynamics of a specific business use case.

But how do tech startups identify the most opportune times to partner with universities? Based on my experience gained over the past 20 years and across three startups, these are the key areas for consideration:

  • ·         Exploratory Phase: As a startup evaluates a market opportunity in a new technical or business area, it may seek additional input and a venue for testing key concepts. University researchers can often help to support these needs and validate differentiators for the initial idea/technology.
  • ·         Data Analysis: Especially in the case of a startup working with large quantities of data, university researchers can support computational analysis. Since graduate labs are often working with data sets in novel ways, academic researchers can act as a new set of eyes for a business problem that has a data component. Such was the case here at Moogsoft, as we wanted to apply a data-driven approach to solving important IT operational management problems.
  • ·         Technical Challenges: If a company encounters a technical log jam, university partners can add value by taking on a piece of that challenge and addressing it part-by-part in collaboration with the startups' R&D team. If left lingering too long, these challenges may monopolize the startups team's time and impede technical and business processes.

At Moogsoft, we've built an ongoing relationship with those pursuing an advanced level of data science at a leading UK university. This collaboration has helped develop our machine learning technology, creating a significant competitive advantage. For a tech startup like ours, this type of partnership has produced a real impact on accelerating our differentiation and has allowed us to accomplish more as a startup.

Phil Tee is Chairman and CEO of Moogsoft. The second installment of this series will focus on managing intellectual property rights to move product innovations from lab to market.

Making the most of the 'Tech Cities' battle

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This is a guest blog from Geoff Smith, Managing Director of Experis, an IT recruitment specialist

Despite the capital's prominence as the home of silicon roundabout start-ups, Shoreditch design houses, and global banks and insurance companies, the UK's boom in IT job creation is more than just a London success story. The government's recent Tech Nation report and our own Tech Cities Job Watch (TCJW) both reveal a fierce hunt for top IT talent across all corners of Britain. The reality is, job seekers are firmly back in the driving seat and employers need to make themselves aware of the market trends to ensure an important competitive edge in the battle for talent. 

In the midst of a protracted skills shortage, there's little room for employers to be complacent when it comes to finding the people with the right experience to fulfill IT and digital needs. The Tech Nation report revealed that 74% of digital companies in the UK now operate outside of London. The knock-on effect is that clusters of experienced IT professionals with the sought-after skills are moving outside of the obvious hiring grounds of London, leaving our capital's businesses with no choice but to extend their recruitment search across the UK for the skills they require.

Our first TCJW report showed that 'Tech Cities' such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Newcastle and Edinburgh have emerged as areas where multiple companies are looking to find talented IT professionals with in-demand skills. Whilst many of the emerging cities have great transport links, London-based companies that wish to access talent based in these areas should consider reviewing their flexible or remote working policies to attract some of the talent back. 

Another factor employers need to consider when looking for talent is that soft skills can be just as vital as technical skills. We regularly speak to companies that have employed people solely for their tech prowess and later realise that they also need people who can share their knowledge with others and communicate the value of new developments to management, such as emerging programming languages. They need to be able to interrogate data and present it to varying audiences in plain English.

The expansion of opportunities outside the capital has big implications for candidates too, putting them in the driving seat with greater control over their careers and multiple options for location, salary and work life balance. Skilled IT candidates who have developed their experience and skillset over several years are in a strong position to find excellent job opportunities. Those who are willing to travel for work can explore lucrative contractor roles, commanding day rates averaging £521 for Cloud positions in Bristol and £600 for Big Data positions in Cambridge. 

The TCJW report showed that Mobile Development skills were in massive demand across the country. This area has grown rapidly in recent years, with a particular demand for android, iOS and Ruby on Rails development skills. Web developers are also in high demand, particularly those who can work confidently with back-end .Net, Java and SQL skills and front-end UI, UX and visual design skills.

There is a growing need for IT Security skills as employers look to improve their defence against the increasing number of cyber threats. They will be looking very favourably on candidates with CLAS, Cyber Security and Information Security skills. 

These highly sought after skills have a tendency to gather where there are opportunities. For example, Cambridge is leading the cities outside London for permanent Mobile Development and Web Development pay, with average salaries reaching £41,032 and £39,750 respectively. Meanwhile, Glasgow is leading on Big Data (£45,300) and IT Security (£50,804) and Birmingham on Cloud salaries (£52,684).

We intend to release our TCJW report on a quarterly basis to keep businesses updated on the trends shaping IT recruitment and enable candidates to make informed decisions based on the evolving opportunities across the country.

As demand for IT talent continues to outstrip supply, it will be increasingly important for employers to broaden their talent search in order to meet their current and future skills needs. Similarly, candidates will make themselves more attractive to employers if they ensure they are equipped with the latest technical and soft skills, and those who are flexible enough to work remotely or travel cross-country will be well positioned to secure the best jobs. As the battle of the Tech Cities rages on, a buoyant market for new jobs and opportunities will continue. IT pros and employers who embrace it will be the ones to watch.

 

SpacePortX open day in Manchester

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SpacePortX in Manchester are holding an open day this Friday, to invite people from the tech and startup scene to view its space and hear about its mission.

On Friday 13 March from 3pm SpacePortX will open its doors to both fully-fledge businesses and startups for a Q&A and tour.

Doug Ward, Shaun Gibson and Martin Bryant are the founders of SpaceportX and are on a mission to ensure Manchester becomes a top five European startup destination. They also aim to develop the North West of England into a tech startup hub of the future.

Ward and Gibson are also the founders of Tech Britain, which mapped out the UK's tech startup scene. Both co-founders are advisors to Number 10 Downing Street and the University of Manchester.

Following the Open Day SpacePortX will be hosting Silicon Drinkabout.

I visited SpacePortX on a recent trip up to Manchester and I would highly recommend dropping in to see their amazing space and to meet the people who work there.

You can find out more information and register your place here.

We have to do a better job of "PR-ing" apprenticeships

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Roger Thorpe, chairman of CCE share why he believes today's apprentices are our future entrepreneurs

According to the government's website, in 1914 dress making was the most popular apprenticeship, followed by engineering.  In 2014 dress making is not even on the list and engineering slides to number nine.  At a time when we should be focused on building high value products and services it is disappointing to see one of the core skills for the fashion industry not in the top ten and engineering continuing to lag.  Indeed it is my view that apprentices should be seen as the future business leaders and entrepreneurs, who will drive growth for this country.  However, as a report by Demos shows we clearly have to do a much better "PR job" on Apprenticeships.roger.jpg

The Commission on Apprenticeships Report admits that there is a lack of "parity of esteem" for technical and vocational learning.  Indeed while all agree apprenticeships are a vital cog in our economy only 15% of employers offer such schemes compared to more than half of employers in Germany.  Sadly there is a sense of institutionalised attitudes towards apprenticeships, which we must tackle.  For example one survey of parents suggested that only one fifth viewed apprenticeships as having the same status as university education despite over 90% saying apprenticeships are a good thing.  However, I would suggest it is not just this over-emphasis on university education that is the problem.  It is also a fault of focusing on the wrong type of apprenticeships, which has led to a misunderstanding of its benefits for business and society.

For example, I do not want to be condescending towards the other apprenticeships that appear on the Government's 2014 top ten, but it concerns me that business administration and management are the number two and three in the list.  Are we really creating a nation of managers?  These skills are important, but they do not create business value in anywhere near the same amount as specialised skills.  If Britain wants to lead the world and drive economic growth this has to be addressed.  That is underlined in the Demos report, which says 72% of businesses who have apprentices see an increase in productivity and apprentices can expect to earn 18% more having completed an advanced programme.  Such a crucial message is key to underlining the value of these schemes and addressing this "esteem" issue.

With National Apprenticeship Week taking place this week, my own career path has been brought to mind and how the journey started out thanks to an apprenticeship scheme.  My first "break" was as an apprentice engineer with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) which went on to become British Airways.  While I was there I was exposed to a wide variety of experiences and built up skills, which have stood me in good stead throughout my working life.  For example, I learned about using tools, devising repair schemes, process planning, and working on design in the Drawing Office. During my post apprenticeship period (sometimes called Journeymanship) I helped to build a real time reservations system and that knowledge - in part - helped me to secure a role with Clarkson's Holidays, designing and installing real-time reservations systems.

I have been lucky enough work for some of the major brands in the UK, including George Wimpy and ICL, before going on to set up CCE, so I believe I have a great deal to thank apprenticeships for as a way into the workplace.

Apprenticeships benefit everyone

When I see young people of all backgrounds and abilities struggling to find job opportunities - or even work experience - I can't help but think apprenticeships could have a far more important role to play.  We do need a more skilled workforce, but it is wrong to view higher education as the be all and end all.  Apprenticeships mix valuable learning with even more valuable on-the-job experience, which businesses have admitted is a key factor when decided who to hire.  From the student's perspective there should also be more flexibility built into the language used around apprenticeship schemes.  If you start out as an apprentice car mechanic or engineer it does not necessarily mean you will end up in that role.

Today our family business, CCE, enjoys a turnover of around £20 million and serves a wide range of blue chip corporate clients.  I would argue that part of our success is due to the fact that when I set up the business I brought with me a library of knowledge from all my previous roles.  Above all, starting out as an apprentice ignited a desire for learning and developing new skills that has always stuck with me.  Perhaps if apprenticeships were seen as a gateway to bigger and better things, a means to encourage a permanent cycle of career development, they would offer businesses and apprentices even greater value.

Apprenticeships are the answer to the war for talent

As the chairman of our family business I see great value in apprenticeships, which is why we have sponsored several students through Brunel University.   We are sponsoring a new undergraduate through  university education next year who has already worked for us during his vacations.  While we do not have the resources of larger companies, we want to make our contribution and as a medium sized business we see huge benefit for us.

 It shows a potential employee that we are invested in his or her future, which clearly helps with employee retention.  Additionally, we are able to bring in new skills and compete for talent that we might otherwise lose to larger competitors.  Above all we have found apprentices reciprocate and show huge dedication to our business, which of course benefits our customers and growth. 

The government has asked British business to pledge its support for apprenticeships and while we are not participating directly in the scheme I do feel we are contributing.  I would ask other business leaders - especially in the engineering and technology sectors - to weigh up the benefits of this scheme and help our future generations kick start their careers.  Business leaders should view these committed individuals as the entrepreneurs, who will drive their future business growth.







How Maker Faires are boosting STEM skills

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This is a guest blog by Phil Dunmore, ‎head of consulting UK at Cognizant.

Over the last few years there has been a lot of interest in Maker Faires in the US and the Maker Movement. Many have heralded the Maker Movement as bringing about the third industrial revolution by creating a community of entrepreneurs who, in general, are highly skilled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). These communities act like multi-generational incubators of creativity and innovation. The direct result of this is that the next generation of budding Makers are focusing on boosting their STEM skills in order to be involved, and succeed in, this movement.

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The creator of Maker Faire, Dale Dougherty, describes it as a gathering of "artists, scientists, craftsmen and engineers who seem to belong together, connected by enthusiasm and common passion where we see innovation in the wild." Four years later as the White House held its first Maker Faire, US President Obama remarked that, "If you can imagine it, then you can do it--whatever it is. And that's a pretty good motto."

Companies in all industries are looking for innovators - not just inventors. At the same time, much attention is focused on the innovation deficit in the U.K. and lack of proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and how to address the shortfall. How can we harness the Maker Movement to inspire the next generation of innovators here in the UK?

Cognizant's view is that creativity and innovation coupled with STEM are essential to producing the products and services we will need in the future. For this reason we need to focus on both STEM and the arts - sometimes referred to as "STEAM." And moving beyond competitiveness, we believe that education, and particularly STEM education, is the fundamental sustainability issue of our time, since the solutions to poverty, global health issues and climate change will require a highly educated and STEM-literate population.

The mission of Cognizant's Making the Future education initiative is to make STEM fun through hands-on learning opportunities. We believe strong STEM literacy coupled with creativity and collaboration will help prepare the next generation to drive innovation and growth in our global economy.

Making the Future is important for many reasons. Hands-on project-and design-based learning approaches are more consistent with the cognitive processes and learning styles we attribute to the millennial generation and younger. These approaches spark creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. They "pull" kids into STEM disciplines by generating interest and confidence, rather than "pushing" them to do better in maths and science. The Maker Movement, with its emphasis on do-it-yourself (DIY) and do-it-with-others (DIWO) projects, provides a strong community and supporting philosophy that inspires this type of creative learning and can appeal to both girls and boys across a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds. 

Tomorrow's STEM jobs will place increased demands on the development of new STEM competencies. We no longer live in an Industrial Economy - we are firmly implanted in the Knowledge Economy, or what some call the era of digital business, in which we compete on code. New technologies are revolutionising the future of work created by global and virtual environments made up of millennial workers and consumers. Technical skills are not relevant forever, but transforming an individual into a life-long learner is enduring. Making the Future emphasises the process or the "doing" of the project, encouraging collaboration, interdisciplinary problem-solving, risk-taking and the intrinsic motivation. These qualities will be at the core of the change-makers of tomorrow.

Traditional approaches alone are not meeting the demands of future jobs or preparing a trajectory of success for the next generation of workers. Innovation is about taking something we have done traditionally and adapting it so it allows us to run better and run differently.

Today's inspiration is tomorrow's innovation.

IT jobs in the East of England offers opportunities to progress

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This is a guest blog by Scott Woodrow, associate director at Pure Resourcing Solutions, a recruitment consultancy firm in the East of England.

With IT being the fastest growing industry in the UK, it's probably not too surprising that we're seeing a significant skills shortage, especially in the areas of web development and software engineering.

I work for Pure Resourcing Solutions (Pure) - a leading recruitment consultancy firm in the East of England.

We're finding that the IT job market has become particularly buoyant in the last year in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. And over the next 12 months we expect to see new technology vacancies emerging as the regional economy strengthens.

Many local employers are struggling to fill permanent IT vacancies, but they're offering competitive salaries and generous benefit packages to attract and retain the best talent. This trend is expected to intensify throughout 2015.

According to data from Compare My Salary (the UK's only live peer-to-peer salary comparison website), senior wages in the eastern counties exceed £100,000, and almost one quarter earn between £40,000 and £49,999. Annual bonuses range from £300 to £15,000.

We're also seeing more people escaping long commutes and crowds of big city life as they relocate to this region.

Trends across the counties

North Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk are seeing growing SMEs advertising for new IT staff to support their development. With around 548,000 SMEs in the East of England alone, these opportunities are probably set to increase as SMEs engage more with customers through digital channels. As a result, more roles are emerging in user experience, e-commerce and data management, as well as traditional IT support.

Also, SMEs in our region need IT staff with non-traditional skillsets. We know of digital marketing agencies that are looking for developers for client-facing roles, for example.

Ipswich has an established financial industry in need of more IT professionals. Plus, with increasing business investment in the local start-up scene, the signs here are very positive for plenty of new jobs.

And if job seekers want to work with bigger names, the East of England is also home to employers including BT, Aviva, KLM, Konica and Benefit Cosmetics.

But I couldn't talk about the region without mentioning Cambridge - one of the world's centres of technology. Research shows that the city is the best place to look for work, with 10 vacancies to every job seeker.

Dubbed 'Silicon Fen', Cambridge is home to successful technology firms, making it a strong contender to London. Also, the city is thought to have 18% of the UK's £1bn gaming industry - it's home to companies such as Jagex and Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios.

Cambridge's innovation cluster includes global names such as ARM, CSR and Microsoft Research, and Apple is due to open an office here. And with some of the world's brightest minds and global commercial deals, it's safe to say that the options for IT workers will remain excellent.

But job seekers shouldn't focus on the city - we're seeing many more progressive employers around the eastern region now offering opportunities for long-term career development.

More than a salary

Although income is a key factor, we're hearing that IT candidates want more from a new job. They also want to work for a business with vision, to work with the latest systems, and to push their professional boundaries. They also want to know whether the business is a good employer.

In response, regional employers are promoting themselves more openly when recruiting, so candidates can get to know the company behind the job.

Take Adnams in Suffolk for example. The brewery is currently recruiting an IT Director so Pure is promoting its brand including its award-winning status as a 'Best Employer', to attract high-calibre people.

Finally, some advice

Overall, the job market in the East of England is certainly a viable alternative to the more traditional hubs such as London and the M4 corridor. The job market is ripe for people seeking both permanent and contract roles. But I recommend job seekers sign up with just one recruitment agency: one with a good client list and one that will meet you in person to find out what you really want. It's the most effective route to finding the right job and the right employer.

Inspiring the next generation of Britain's tech pioneers

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This is a guest blog from Edwina Dunn, chair of the Your Life Campaign, which seeks to inspire young people by championing the range of career opportunities unlocked by studying maths and science.

Last week, the very latest in cutting-edge technology from around the world was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. While the programme was dominated by announcements from the likes of South Korean Samsung and LG and American Intel, British companies and entrepreneurs were few and far between.

Given Britain's track record of innovation, its under-representation at this year's convention is surprising.  From the first foray into computer programming led by Ada Lovelace in 1800s to Tim Berners-Lee's invention of the World Wide Web a century and a half later, the technology revolution has been led by those from the UK who are unafraid to challenge the way things are done.

To get Britain back to its best, we need both great innovation and great people. While there is no question about the quality of research produced in the UK, for this to make a real impact on the world stage, Britain must address its current skills deficit. According to the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the UK suffers from an annual shortfall of 40,000 STEM-skilled workers. By 2030 7.1 million UK jobs will rely on science skills a 1.3 million increase on today's number. If we are to meet this demand, young people must be encouraged to continue studying science and maths after these subjects are no longer compulsory.

Far too few young people, even the highest performers, are gaining the essential skills acquired through studying science and maths to university level - for example 80% of girls who achieve an A* grade in physics GCSE do not continue the subject to A Level. The careers of the future will rely on the skills learned through STEM subjects, and it is vital that we inspire the next generation with the full range of possibilities they unlock.

While 79% of young people would consider a STEM career, 51% say they know little or nothing about the type of jobs on offer. CES itself is a great example of the careers possible for individuals with a solid foundation in STEM subjects - from self-driving and hydrogen cars to virtual reality headsets. Only with these examples will we be able to confront traditional perceptions of science and maths and make the real link between exciting jobs and STEM skills.

This is the idea behind our Formula 100 competition, which invites schoolchildren aged 11-18 from across the country to submit a 30 second video, describing what they would invent and why. The competition will work to build an ongoing membership group of 100 students, who will be offered the support of entrepreneurs and business figures to help guide their career choices.

If Britain is going to lay its claim firmly on the technology of the future, it is of the utmost importance to inspire a culture of innovation among schoolchildren. Only by emphasising the tangible and exciting applications of the skills learned in maths and science, will Britain be able to motivate its next generation of world-class innovators. 

 

Perception of IT careers changing for the better

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This is a guest blog by Graham Hunter, vice president of skills certification Europe and Middle East at CompTIA.

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The Skills Show is the UK's biggest skills fair where minds of the future get a taste of what the world of work looks like. CompTIA was there in November 2014, where we were busy demonstrating the exciting opportunities that a career in IT can lead to and the kinds of skills that the industry needs. Together with our friends at Bletchley Park, Intel, Birmingham City University, Remote Training Solutions, Rapid Education and Fuze, we had a number of activities on show, from programmable Lego sets, football playing robots to code breaking tasks. 

Whilst at the Skills Show, we surveyed pupils and teachers that came to our stand to delve into what they thought of the IT sector. The responses showed a shift in perception of the IT industry, with the sector starting to be seen as a more attractive place to work.

A shift in attitude:

In contrast to evidence from the last few years that has shown young people perceive IT as a 'geeky' and 'boring' subject, the vast majority of pupils we spoke to indicated that they thought IT is a cool subject and were aware of the variety of activities that IT consists of. There is more of an awareness amongst young people of the programming and computer science behind most of the devices we use every day, which is something that we arguably lacked just a few years ago.

One of the major steps that has undoubtedly contributed to this - and will continue to help in the future - was this year's revamp in the ICT curriculum across the UK. In its place is the new Computing curriculum, which sees pupils learn more fundamental skills such as coding and programming, rather than one dimensional lessons on how to use software. Through lessons like these, kids are starting to learn the practical applications of IT, and this was reflected in some of their comments on the day. Many pupils, for example, were particularly excited about how simple coding can be used to programme Lego cranes and bridges to move according to instructions they set them.

Security is also slowly but surely making its way into children's use of technology. Intel ran a small security related activity, which highlighted how easy it is to get hold of personal information from Instagram posts. Pupils who took part were surprised at how easy it was, and suggested that they would take more precautionary steps in the future.

More to do:

This positive feedback is welcome news at a time when the UK is facing a huge digital skills shortage. In 2013, CompTIA research found that a quarter of UK Businesses planned to hire additional IT staff, yet saw challenges in finding qualified and experienced workers. Unsurprisingly, 48% of business respondents indicated a concern for current IT labour quantity or quality.

Whilst the majority of pupils have a positive perception of the IT industry, that is still half the battle and we as an industry know that we can still be doing more to address the skills gap. There are a number of ways we can make this happen and make IT more engaging for kids - such as independent industry initiatives like Raspberry Pi Foundation's multiple creative projects.

Tom Briggs, Education Officer at Bletchley Park, who was demonstrating the Engima Machine with us at the Skills Show suggested that there still is opportunity for further integration of Computing into the curriculum. Computing underpins most of what we do in the real world - and elements of the course should be integrated more closely into other subjects so pupils are further exposed to how IT makes the world function.

These thoughts were echoed by Duncan Maidens at Birmingham City University who argued that kids aren't seeing enough of how IT relates to other fields like engineering and design for example. They are only seeing one small part of the sea of possibilities at present. This engagement ultimately starts with teachers he argues; any change begins with them.

Perhaps this is where work around breaking stereotypes starts too. Seventeen out of 20 pupils said that a typical IT worker is male; a gender role perception that has not changed much at all. The fact that stereotypes like this still exist does still show there is work to be done, despite an overall shift in attitude. 

Going a step further, there is still room to improve on the new curriculum itself. By introducing a broader range of practical IT skills, in addition to coding, we can ensure that the IT workforce of tomorrow is equipped to deal with future challenges of all types. But this can't happen unless we provide teachers with the right training - many IT teachers aren't specialists in tech. We need to make sure that both teachers and students are equipped with the tools required to bring concepts to life in a practical way. CompTIA is launching a new web resource in 2015, called Skills Boost which will help students identify the range of career options available in IT, and provide clear career paths, showing the training required for each job.

But despite the doom and gloom surrounding the shortage of skilled IT workers, our conversations with pupils shows that IT is becoming more desirable and more practical. While solving the skills gap is not a short term project, the future does look to be filled with bright minds that understand that IT is a crucial part of what makes the world go round. 

Inspiring the next generation of STEM talent

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This is a guest blog by Phil Dunmore, vice president of Cognizant Business Consulting.

The issue of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills - or lack thereof - among the next generation is never far from the news agenda. It has been suggested by many organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry, that the UK faces a serious shortage of graduates in these subjects and that the consequences are serious enough to threaten our future economic prosperity. Several steps have been taken to try and address this, from the addition of coding to the National Curriculum to a newly revealed, government backed campaign to increase participation in maths, science, and physics A-levels by 50%.

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But there is also a vital role here for technology orientated companies. We all have a vested interest in keeping the UK at the forefront of STEM innovation, and in attracting the best talent to come work for us, particularly when research suggests that a lack of relevant careers advice was a major factor in students not pursuing STEM-based further education or jobs. At Cognizant, this is a topic that's close to our hearts and one where we are taking action.

A couple of weeks ago, we held the latest in a series of events where local pupils come in for a day to spend some time with some of our recent graduates and learn more about what a career in STEM looks like at Cognizant. These 'Insight Days' take place regularly in our offices across the world, but on this occasion we welcomed thirty Year 9 students from two secondary schools in Newham and Fulham to our UK headquarters in Paddington. In the morning, the students took part in some interactive games around technology innovation and heard from our graduates about what studying STEM subjects at university is like. Then the afternoon saw me and three senior colleagues act as the 'dragons' in a Dragons' Den style challenge about wearable technology.

This exercise in particular allowed the students to express their creativity and teamwork skills, whilst also learning about how frequently STEM related topics touch our everyday lives. The students were divided into seven teams, with a mix of pupils from each school, and given a vertical market to target, ranging from Sports & Fitness to Transport. They then had just one hour to come up with a new wearable technology solution, thinking about everything from design and functionality to audience and marketing strategy. It might seem familiar to anyone who watched a recent episode of The Apprentice, but with one key difference: the ideas that were generated were actually really quite interesting.

They included a ring that would allow teachers to track the emotions of their students to better understand their engagement and attention during lessons, a smartwatch that would allow the wearer to transmit movements into video games and a smart shoe that would track the wearer's health as well as store energy from walking to recharge a phone. My fellow dragons and I were all seriously impressed with their ideas, which were all based on highly relevant insights and market trends. For example, healthcare in the wearables market is currently an extremely hot topic, and almost every idea presented to us looked to capitalise on that trend. The students also showed very strong collaborative skills, forging relationships with pupils from another school, brainstorming and then presenting their ideas in little more than an hour.

When discussing what had been learnt from the day, the pupils talked about the extent to which they are surrounded by STEM but often do not realise it - whether at school, at home or out with their friends. By showing how subjects normally perceived as 'boring' such as maths or physics relate to students' everyday lives, we can hopefully create a meaningful connection that demonstrates their relevance and drives curiosity as to where they could take the technology next. The other huge benefit of the day was to give the students a taste of the real working environment.  As one teacher put it to me: "This has been a truly invaluable experience; it has provided my maths students with a great opportunity to get out of the classroom to understand what exciting opportunities exist.  They have all been left highly motivated".

It let them see what life at a company like Cognizant is like and got them to consider, perhaps for the first time, what their careers after finishing education could look like. There are also benefits for us too. It is always very valuable to spend time with young people in this way, exploring the issues that matter to them and hearing first-hand how they view and interact with technology.

One important point to note is that the pursuit of STEM studies does not necessarily need to be entirely at the detriment of the Arts or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths). Creativity, lateral thinking and the ability to communicate are crucial skills in progressing through the ranks in an organisation, which is why we support those from the CBI and other bodies who have recently stated that pupils should also be strongly encouraged to learn a language or other creative subject.

It is our hope that initiatives like the Insight Days succeed in putting STEM subjects back on students' agendas. Getting the next generation enthused about STEM, and showing them how much of their everyday life is connected to it, is crucial if we want the best talent to come into the industry and continue to push boundaries in the future. The government has been taking action, but those of us in the industry need to do our part too.







Closing the STEM skills gap starts in the classroom

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This is a guest blog by Pete Baxter, vice president and head of Autodesk UK.

The lack of STEM skills in the UK is a topic that is continuing to make new headlines. Just recently the Labour party took to social media stating that by 2020 the UK will need 780,000 trained engineering professionals in order to meet industry demands, yet we are currently only training less than half that number. While this growth in demand is a good sign for the industry, it is concerning that we are not on track to fulfil this need for skilled workers.

Of course this problem is not just limited to engineering; at the beginning of the year Semta (the sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies) claimed it faced a shortfall of 80,000 workers within the next two years alone. In March the CBI called for major action to be taken to address a STEM skills vacuum. 

So it was encouraging to see from our recent research that over half (52%) of 11-18 year olds want to pursue a career in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Digital Arts and Maths) related industries.  Note that the 'A' that has snuck in here stands for digital arts, an area arguably as important to our future economy as science, technology, engineering and maths - just look at the strength of the UK film, gaming and visual effects sector as evidence of this.

We've all heard and shared the concerns about the appetite for STEAM skills amongst the next generation. The various arguments go that: schools want to focus on 'easy' subjects to get up the league tables, students themselves would rather do 'less challenging' subjects, and even those pupils that do show an interest in STEAM subjects will ultimately end up getting swallowed up by the financial sector as they look for higher salaries.

While there may be grains of truth in some of these arguments, it is great to see that there is actually a real enthusiasm for careers in these industries amongst the next generation. If we as a country can nurture this enthusiasm within our classrooms we can develop the skilled workforce we need to succeed in the future. But this is where the potential problem lies. In the same piece of research more than half of pupils (57%) said a lack of access to technology is stopping them from using more of it in the classroom while a third (33%) also said they don't feel their school knows enough about new technology.

There are some fantastic examples of schools and higher education establishments in the UK doing amazing things to inspire their pupils in STEAM subjects. A secondary school like East Barnet is a great example of how innovative teachers can expose students to engineering and design principles using technologies like robotics and 3D printing in a classroom setting. In post-secondary education, students at New College Lanarkshire have benefited from receiving the highest level of training combined with access to industry leading software to progress into a range of industries from oil and gas to aerospace to ship building to media and entertainment.

However if we really want to create the skilled workforce of the future we need to provide secondary school students with regular hands-on access to highly visual and creative tools and technologies, while older students need the opportunity to master professional tools and techniques to ensure they hit the ground running when they begin their STEAM careers. This is part of the issue, and one Autodesk is helping to tackle by providing free access to every secondary and post-secondary institution in the UK.

In addition, industry leaders also could and should do more to open the eyes of the younger generation to the various opportunities that careers in STEAM related industries offer. More needs to be done for example to highlight the variety of roles and skills required within industries such as construction or engineering. Technological advances are opening up new career possibilities that might not have existed years ago, potentially appealing to a generation more interested and skilled in technology than previous ones.

Advances in accessible 3D design and fabrication technology are disrupting design, engineering and entertainment professions as we know them. The rise in mobile and cloud technology has also made it possible to design anywhere, at any time. However, the progress that we have seen technology make in the commercial world needs to find its way into today's classrooms. Until we succeed in bridging this gap, stories on shortages of STEAM skills may continue to be the norm. 

No classroom required?

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Everything changes - no more so than in the world of technology. As tablets and mobile devices outsell laptops and desktops the opportunities for education abound. Students and teachers have access to a bewildering array of devices and software applications are rapidly moving from a device based model to

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Remember when you used to buy your office software on a CD and install it? Not now - you download it or simply point your cursor at a link. So, armed with a browser on their trusty smartphone or tablet, learners and teachers are freed up in ways they never dreamt of five years ago. Forget Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) - the new acronym is UMODD (Using My Own Device and Data)! James Penny, solutions director at European Electronique, shares his insight into how cloud computing can have a positive impact on education.

Better learning

Schools are about learning. All schools want to provide the best quality learning opportunities for the young people they serve. ICT is clearly an essential part of the learning environment in the 21st Century. But what we want is technology that sits seamlessly in the background, is ready to use when needed, always on and always up to date.

It needs to be simple but powerful yet easy to use. In fact, exactly what we get when we use our personal mobile devices. So why can't we bring that simplicity to the infrastructure of our schools? Well that's exactly what cloud technologies can do. Put simply - Cloud technology can support more powerful learning.

Cloud use and adoption

What is driving cloud adoption? Well it's quite simple really. When devices were big boxes that were fixed by a wire to a network point, things were somewhat limited. But as mobile phone networks grew in power and smartphones became less 'phone' and more 'smart', accessing data services from anywhere became a necessity. But where do you store data, applications and everything else if the device and the user are constantly wondering from place to place?

Well it's obvious...and so the 'Cloud' was born as a convenient way of explaining where your stuff was stored. In reality of course it sits in a physical data centre on servers. It is the access that has changed. With wearable technology set to become mainstream in the next couple of years, mobility will be the watchword.

Embracing the cloud

The most powerful model for education is the idea of a Hybrid Cloud. The hybrid approach looks at where best to store data based on how the data will be used. Bringing together the best of what is available for free on the web with what is best hosted in a private data centre or left on the physical site enables the creation of a flexible and very cost effective approach. Cloud infrastructure is of course based on a pay as you go model so you can move away from the endless issues of infrastructure that keeps going out of date. In the traditional approach as soon as you install your infrastructure it starts to age.

With a cloud model, you pay for a service so whatever is needed to keep the service at the same level is covered in the costs you pay. The cloud service provider updates the hardware and software as part of the costs you pay. This means that you can reduce the costs of supporting your infrastructure and just concentrate on the learning. You also only pay for what you use.

Classrooms Required?

With the range of services available via a web browser growing every day, combined with the proliferation of mobile personal devices, the opportunities for using cloud solutions in education are staggering. It is not fanciful to imagine that the role of the classroom will significantly change over the next five years. From being the place where facts are dispensed by a teacher at the front of the class, to a place where learners and teachers gather to debate and discuss, where facts and ideas can be explored and collated.

Learning will spill beyond the boundaries of the school and beyond the normal times, all powered and supported by cloud technologies that are cost effective and reliable. We'll never do away with schools and classrooms, however  the use of spaces in schools will change as well as the way we educate, as we prepare our young people for a world where the jobs they will do may not even have been thought of yet.

If you want to see what a mobile approach to technology can achieve, where classrooms have evolved and learning is liberated, then I would recommend looking at what the students and staff are doing at an academy on the Isle of Portland on the South Coast of England. The Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy, or IPACA to its friends, is a stunning example of how mobile devices and cloud technologies can be fully and successfully integrated into the everyday working life of students and staff.

They support BYOD and UMODD and have an enlightened view about making the most of free web based resources. Even their teachers are different. They have experts in cloud tools and they have a Director of Digital Learning and Innovation, Gary Spracklen, who is pushing the boundaries. As their Patron, the world renowned Stephen Heppell (www.heppell.net) says: "We don't know how good our learners can be". By giving students the tools and the power of cloud technologies, IPACA are starting to see just what is possible. You'll see a future where learners push ahead at their own pace, developing the knowledge and skills that will set them up for a successful future. After all - it's all about learning!

Check out www.ipaca.org.uk for more on what the future of learning really should be.

Can adopting a corporate philanthropy culture help in the attraction and retention of staff?

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This is a guest blog by Patrick Feast, director - training & development at IT recruiter Harris Global.

According to recent figures from KPMG, the technology sector is expanding faster than any other UK industry.  Not surprisingly, then, the latest report from recruitment body APSCo shows growth in IT job vacancies - but, worryingly, a drop in placement numbers as it becomes harder to find the right candidates.  Recruitment issues are therefore moving up the agenda for companies that want to make the most of the opportunities that industry growth can bring.

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To recruit and retain the best candidates, tech firms need to have a real point of difference that gives staff a reason to select them - and which is big enough to stop them being  tempted away by the competition or the lure of freelancing.  Of course, offering a good salary is an important starting point, but in our experience, that's not enough on its own.  Especially when you are looking the twenty-somethings who are fuelling the IT workforce.

Emerging 'Generation Y' has different values and desires compared to previous generations.  Debt from university fees and the seeming impossibility of buying property has actually made money a less motivating factor.  Increasingly they want to work for a business which looks beyond the profit sheet at making a positive impact on the lives of the people that work there, and also the wider community.

Companies with foundations based on genuine Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) values are starting to feel the benefit of this investment.  We have seen candidates with three job offers on the table reject the big corporations and big money, instead picking the smaller firms with philanthropic and environmental credentials. 

CSR is also a great long term motivator.  At Harris we work with a local organisation which helps  people with long-term mental health issues on the road back to full time employment, giving CV advice, interview practice and mentoring to its members.  This takes our staff, who are mainly in their twenties, well out of their comfort zone.  However, once they start doing it they love it, and many go on to volunteer for the charity in their own time too.  Interestingly, we have also found that adding a competitive element to CSR can work well too - dividing the company into two and seeing which team can raise the most money for a local charity.

Also, in the IT sector, we are seeing amongst Generation Y staff a growing desire to be part of 'real' communities as an antidote to the virtual ones created by social media.  CSR initiatives are a great way of creating a sense of community within a business, as well as real life connections that extend beyond the workplace.

It can be hard work for a business to implement ethical, sustainable and philanthropic practices but it's worth it.  It helps profitability through greater staff retention, but not only that, it also provides competitive advantage by helping businesses stand out to their clients and customers.  And if, on top of all that, it makes you feel great about coming to work on a Monday morning, that's an investment with a priceless return.

FDM's military personnel take to the streets for Poppy Appeal

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As a Royal British Legion Poppy Collector myself, I was pleased to hear that FDM Group had its own uniformed personnel supporting London Poppy Day this year.

In its efforts to close the IT skills gap the company offers a training programme for ex-military personnel, which was first launched in the US and came to UK shores in 2013.

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The IT service provider put together a Corporate Office Collection Team of six uniformed military personnel, along with representatives from the British Legion and Barclaycard as well as FDM Ex-Forces consultants and employees who collected on behalf of the Royal British Legion's appeal.

The team took part in the London Poppy Day event, an initiative which began eight years ago when a small group of ex-military friends decided to pin on their medals and sell poppies over their lunch breaks around Lloyds of London. After collecting £500 in two hours they realised the potential in the idea and London Poppy Day was born.

This year the collection day ended at Leadenhall Market where the armed forces met to celebrate their efforts.

FDM Group has a strong background in supporting the armed forces.  In February this year it signed the Ministry of Defence's Armed Forces Corporate Covenant.

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The Armed Forces Corporate Covenant enables businesses and charities to voluntarily pledge and outline publicly how they are willing to commit to the Armed Forces community.

In addition, FDM's UK Ex-Forces Programme offers ex-forces personnel IT training in several business and technical disciplines. The training is then followed by commercial experience at FDM for at least two years.

In the US FDM runs a Veteran's Programme which focuses on transitioning veterans into professional IT consultants. The company offers 17 weeks training at its New York based academy, and two years employment with FDM once fully qualified.

FDM's staff will also be amongst those starting the Poppy extraction process at the Tower of London this week. 

Inaccuracies in technology candidates' CVs: How the tech industry needs to respond

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This is a guest blog by Peter Robbins, managing director, of Mercato Solutions

I was taken aback by recent news that announced a worryingly high number of inaccuracies in technology candidates' CVs. The survey by First Advantage revealed that more than 37% of CVs submitted to technology companies have inconsistencies, a markedly higher number than the national average of 27%. Most alarmingly, just under a third of all these irregularities were found to be 'major,' with 45% of discrepancies found in the candidates' education history. 

This is particularly concerning given the current skills shortage within the IT sector. Recent figures indicate the industry is struggling to recruit the right talent and the problem is growing with the UK Council of Professors & Heads of Computing predicting a further 15% rise in IT jobs within the next ten yearsYet, 50% fewer graduates than a decade ago are seeking roles in our sector.  The shortfall gap is increasing.     

As the tech sector continues to lead growth in domestic and export markets, it is critical we get recruitment and development right to support innovation and growth.  This demands the industry as a whole, above and beyond London, to buoy national interest in our dynamic and exciting sector.  Several major growth hotspots exist in Birmingham and the North West, which overall will support the bigger industry mission to grow.       

As a software business, we have found it challenging to recruit developers and the latest CV related news is perhaps an indication of things to come unless the industry takes a lead to drive engagement between education and the commercial world, improving the way we train people and make them 'work ready'.  But, it is very important we do it in the right manner. 

Software development requires a great deal of skill and expertise, and by creating a long-term shared plan, we can build a pipeline of talented skilled professionals from the grass roots up.

Whilst it is early days for review, September's launch of the new 'code' focussed IT syllabus in schools could be a sound first step, assuming it is taught as a problem solving and engineering subject by teachers with relevant skills.  Hopefully it will teach students how to actually build software not just how to use it.       

 

As it stands we're going to have a gap as we wait for September's Year 1 intake to flourish and then we have to question how their early skills are going to be nurtured going forwards.

 

Apprenticeships and skills development programmes can go a long way in helping to tackle the CV issue. We have seen considerable success in taking on young dynamic people at an early stage in their tech careers as apprentices. The investment we place in young people means that in the end, we aren't just confident they have the skills - we know they do.

 

Train and retain

Allowing individuals to develop while in employment is valuable to both the employee and the employer. Investing time in young people that are willing to learn creates brand ambassadors who are trained in line with the ethos of the company and are familiar with certain processes and business-specific technology.

Nurturing this talent is so crucial and companies that retain apprentices as employees are likely to see the benefits - we certainly have.  As a result, we are committed to bridging the gap between education and employment, upskilling a local workforce and providing local apprenticeships for school leavers and young people. Within the business, we have actually used our own technology to upskill new trainees - all via a software platform that enables us to teach our apprentices how to build business applications within just 60 days of training. 

Industry effort

We need to work harder to make it clear to candidates that they needn't skirt around qualifications and experience on their CV. There's a problem if people are getting put off from telling the truth. Candidates should not feel they need to hide their passion for the industry, even if their skillsets do not reflect this. The tech industry needs to be shouting louder that it's this passion we're looking for and there are plenty of opportunities out there that can develop the skills to match!

If we want the British tech sector to grow we need to invest in our workforce - only then will we have a chance of bridging the skills gap and driving innovation.






Calling all UK tech firms and evangelists: Skills London 2014 needs you!

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This is a guest blog by Barrie Hadfield, CTO of Workshare and London First board member.

The UK tech sector continues to enjoy its greatest year of growth yet, becoming known as the 'silver economy' by many investors. With this success comes endless career opportunities for highly skilled graduates and new entrants wanting to enter the world of tech.

Yet filling such positions has become a major business challenge. Research by the Confederation of British Industry and KPMG revealed that nearly half of London businesses (45%) believe the capital is experiencing a skills shortage, and that two thirds (66%) find it difficult to recruit highly skilled workers, with IT and technology roles being the most difficult to fill.

In response to this, TechUK, the trade association for the UK's technology industry, recently published a manifesto calling on the Government to foster domestic technology skills to safeguard the country's digital economy, and secure one million IT jobs over the next five years.

As well as the Government, London's technology firms have a responsibility to entice young talent to the sector, by making it more appealing and accessible to the graduate workforce. Together with key influencers in the sector, we need to work to attract more talent to the capital by promoting the promising career opportunities that working in IT and tech can offer.

Despite the IT skills shortage, London is still one of the best places in the world to do business and for graduates to start their careers. And for this reason, we continue to see major companies and startups flood the capital's Tech City area, including Google and Apple. According to Bloomberg, London now has more jobs in financial technology than New York (44,000 versus 43,000), and because of Tech City's proximity to the city, fintech startups are blooming. 

The economic success of London's Tech City has been instrumental in attracting investment to the capital. This has led to increasing internship opportunities within the sector and it is becoming one of the best-paid industries for interns to work in today. It's also renowned for being one of the most diverse sectors, with a multitude of different skills coming together from software engineering, marketing, design and fashion.

As a tech evangelist, it's great to see the significant impact the tech sector is having on the capital. Having just been appointed to the board of London First, a not-for-profit organisation promoting London as a business destination, I'm the first representative to join from Tech City. The IT skills shortage in London is an issue high on the agenda and one that we are keen to address together.

London First will be raising awareness of the tech sector and IT skills at Skills London 2014, the capital's biggest jobs and careers event for young people from 21-22 November. The event will provide tech organisations and influencers with the perfect opportunity to showcase London's vibrant technology scene. The event will attract over 30,000 young people, parents and teachers and will provide young jobseekers with a better understanding of the careers available to them, as well as offering advice on how to gain technology and IT experience.

It is paramount that London's leading businesses recognise the opportunity Skills London presents, and participate in what is going to be a milestone event for the capital's tech sector. 

Will compulsory coding in schools solve the UK's IT skills shortage?

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This is a guest blog by Emily Dauris, group marketing manager of G2 Legal Limited & Skillsearch Limited

In September this year, Michael Gove launched his new scheme to making computer coding a mandatory part of the curriculum for primary school children in the UK. So beginning this term five year olds are being taught to write and test computer programmes and coding languages are to be learnt at age 11. Although there has been a harsh backlash from Teachers who claim these drastic changes to the curriculum have been rushed through and schools are not yet prepared or trained to teach these skills, Mrs Morgan (

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Gove's predecessor) backs the initiative and looks to continue with the scheme.

It has been a hot topic for some time now. Tiny Estonia adopted this new approach in 2012, making lessons in programming computers and mobile devises mandatory for students from 6 years old. Mainland China also joined the revolution with Hong Kong set to be next in line. So are we right to follow suit? Estonia's population is just ¼ the size of Scotland's and yet it is a technological superpower and the creators of Skype. Joanna Shields, the UK's ambassador for digital industries and chairman of TechCity UK has even gone as far as to argue that we should consider dropping lessons in foreign languages in favour of coding languages, claiming these skills will only increase in demand. So do we need to educate our children at a young age to secure our future in IT's evolution? Or could this be damaging to the future of IT as a profession?

With the next generation being given the skills to build and support technology themselves, could the IT sector be at threat of future extinction? According to some of the people who would be most effected if this were to happen, IT Recruiters, it would seem not. Andy Milford of Skillsearch Ltd firmly believes that 'If done properly, making computer programming part of the curriculum could provide a major boon for the UK's IT industry.' As a senior business intelligence and data visualisation recruitment consultant, Andy Milford confronts the shortage of skilled coders in certain UK markets on a daily basis. 'The biggest challenge to the Recruiter is not acquire the business from the client but actually finding a candidate with the skillset to match the role,' he explains. ' If children are taught to code from an earlier age then this will only have a beneficial effect on the UK where we are still seeing projects outsourced due to more available skillsets overseas.'

I asked Giles Fenwick, games and interactive manager at Skillsearch's Digital technology arm, if he was concerned that educating the entire next generation in coding could result in a saturated marketplace. 

'I don't believe so' he responded, 'what it will do is better educate those who are interested in the industry. Particularly in the games industry where success does not just come from the ability to code, but more importantly the ideas and creativity that go into making games people want to play. If children are provided the skills to produce these ideas it will only allow the industry to progress and the UK to become a major player in this high-growth digital market.'

It seems there is an uncharacteristic optimism in this particular initiative of Michael Gove and a general consensus that advancing the computer skills of the next generation is integral to this country's growth, not only in launching the careers of future technology pioneers, but in extending the choice of technology vendors. 'Within the Business Intelligence market in particular,' Andy explains, 'we have been seeing a shift away from the larger global vendors, to more affordable BI software technologies. For the smaller houses, more readily available coders and programmers is essential for them to be able to meet demand and compete'.

Perhaps what sets IT apart from other academic subjects is that it is constantly evolving and changing? This makes it increasingly difficult for the next generation to know what to expect from a career in the sector. By arming the next generation with the skills needed to build their own computer programmes we provide them a great foundation from which their imaginations are able to take over, thereby inspiring innovative future technological pioneers and establishing the UK as a leader in the digital world.

My experience of using twitter as a teaching tool

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This is a guest blog by professor Leszek Gąsieniec is the head of the University of Liverpool's Computer Science department. 

Earlier this year, he used Twitter to support the delivery of a postgraduate module, called Applied Algorithmics. 

In recent years we have noticed that certain students do not read university email on a regular basis. Students tend to use their private email accounts on Yahoo, Google, or stick to other communication technologies that naturally incorporate multimedia and reporting mechanisms allowing to engage in a more attractive (and complex) dialogue.

Twitter appears to provide a powerful alternative to email communication as it provides a good compromise between a professional communication tool and a multimedia storage platform.

This year we adopted Twitter as the communication tool for a relatively small on Applied Algorithmics. The module provides amalgamate of theory of algorithms with problem solving accompanied by several software implementations.

Apart from lectures combined with tutorials, students attend labs during which they work on Java assignments that are tested and assessed on our internally developed electronic feedback-submission system.

As the students can submit their work multiple times seeing (anonymously) their performance with respect to the others they tend to ask questions, looking for hints and clarifications.

This process requires a good communication tool. We set up new Twitter accounts for all of the students on the module, including myself, the tutor and one of my PhD students who monitored the system as part of his research interest.

During delivery of the module we used Twitter for communication almost solely. Several students used the tool extensively, and others only followed our discussions.

The public conversation was open to all students. In fact it is still open to everyone. In addition several private messages exchanged between the lecturer and the individual students. I can only assume that the students used private communication between themselves too.

While the use of Twitter was experimental and we did not use its capability to the full extent, the students' feedback was very positive and encouraging to prolong its use in the following years.

There were many advantages to using this approach. Twitter provides an open (public) forum and almost all messages, with exception of dedicated private communication, is available for others to read. This includes those who do not attend the module. Such open forum encourages greater engagement including direct contact and discussions.

In contrast to email, Twitter API is an open multimedia platform that allows collection and further analysis of messages, images, videos which can be used, to understand the mechanics of course engagement including communication.

There are, however, some disadvantages too. You need to set up new Twitter accounts for everyone on the course.  Social media is chiefly used to comment on life problems, politics, so occasionally this type of messages may slip in during course related exchange of messages.  Importantly, the course leader must be a Twitter enthusiast or it simply won't work.

The next step would be to test it on larger modules, but I would certainly encourage my colleagues in Computer Science and other fields to try it out.

The material of the module is available at http://cgi.csc.liv.ac.uk/~leszek/COMP526/ including the link to COMP526 Twitter account https://twitter.com/lag_526

What do IT professionals look for in an employer?

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This is a guest post from Matt Fahy, Unum's chief information officer.

New statistics from KPMG reveal that the current skills shortage has led to the sharpest growth in demand for IT staff in August in more than 15 years. Whilst IT vacancies are increasing year on year, it's growing increasingly difficult to find people with the right skillset for the job. As a result, employers have to work harder than ever before to beat off the competition and recruit and retain the best talent.

As IT companies gear up for the busy Autumn recruitment drive, now is the time to think about how to stand out from the crowd and bridge the looming skills gap. So what do IT professional look for when deciding which company to join?

While salary will always remain a key consideration, our research has found that feeling cared for by an employer is one of the most important factors when IT professions decide whether to join or stay with a company. In fact, a third of people working in the sector say they would consider leaving a job as a result of poor wellbeing and a further 26% say it would make them less likely to stay with an employer long-term.

An important part of making staff feel valued and cared for is paying attention to softer elements around management and recognition. IT workers increasingly expect to feel empowered at work and that their hard work is recognised and rewarded.

There are many examples of IT companies which have found innovative ways to empower and motivate staff. Google's 20% rule is a famous example, where employees spend one day a week on a new product or idea that is not part of their main job, while newer companies such as Edinburgh-based travel comparison site Skyscanner invests in training and development through the Skyscanner University, which includes subjects as diverse as negotiation skills and making sushi.

IT companies that are truly committed to retaining and attracting top talent also need to make sure these softer elements are underpinned by a comprehensive package of benefits which provide long-term financial protection - for example, Private Medical Insurance or Income Protection which provides a replacement income if an employee has to go on long-term sick leave. This is a tangible way for employers to demonstrate they care for their staff, and we know it's important to workers in the sector - Unum's Wellbeing Lag research earlier this year found that as many as 75% of IT workers say a comprehensive benefits package is important to them, and 63% specifically highlighted financial support through ill health, making this a bigger factor in staff loyalty than a good bonus (49%).

The latest evidence of the concerning skills shortage within the IT sector should be a wake-up call to businesses. People join - and stay with - companies who can demonstrate that they value their employees.

With our research finding that the cost of replacing IT professionals who earn £25,000 or more comes in at over £31,000, it makes financial sense to ensure this is an absolute priority. There needs to be more emphasis at board level on recruiting, retaining and nurturing talent, not only to ensure a happy and healthy workforce but to make sure IT companies can beat the skills gap and attract the staff they need in order to innovate and grow. 

Can your company donate old hardware for use at Technopop for young people?

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Technopop has joined forces with techUK to continue in its hunt for unwanted hardware for use at the Technopop festival for young people.

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Technopop, is working with techUK, to collect companies hardware for the festival and then plans to donate it to local schools after the event.

The four week long programme includes educational workshops, coding clubs, hackathons, rocketry, learning to building apps and more.

The event is aimed at 6-19 year olds and their parents and will run from 8 Oct to 2 November in Stratford.  

 If your company can help by donating old laptops, screens, pcs and macs please contact hello@technopop.co.uk. 

 To attend Technopop you can find more information here: http://technopop.co.uk/.

 

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