IT Mentorship Programs, Do They Work?

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This is a guest post by John Yurkschatt, director of the IT Services Practice Area for Direct Consulting Associates (DCA), an IT consulting and staffing firm.

It is often in conversations with leaders in the IT industry that I hear references to past mentors and how someone else played a significant role in their success.  The more successful people I meet, the more I hear individuals speaking of their mentors or those they are mentoring. BLN001_JOHN YURKSCHATT_E_4X5.jpg

I am a huge believer in a strong mentorship program.  To this day, I make sure that I am continuously mentoring as well as being mentored.  Although I have experienced success in my career, I am humble enough to realize that luck and good circumstances can often play a bit of a role.  Now, if I can identify where I need to get better, improve, and develop additional tools, I can benefit from being on both sides of a mentoring program.

The opportunity to share success stories, horror stories, and times where we've hit the proverbial brick wall can benefit everyone, especially the mentee.   Mentorship programs require humility, an eagerness to learn, and an eagerness to grow.  A successful mentorship program requires both parties to share openly, freely, and put knowledge/insight into practice.
There are four types of IT mentorship programs:
•         Career Mentoring: Assists mentee's with the opportunity to work towards a predetermined career path.  This type of mentoring is designed to allow individuals to work from point A to point B with the help of the mentor assisting with that development.

•         Networking Mentoring: Enables individuals to meet others in the market place to allow for idea and name sharing.  Often times this type of informal mentoring leaders to insight and knowledge transfer.

 •         Orientating Mentorships: This type of mentoring usually begins within the first few weeks that a new employee is at an organization.  Orientating mentoring allows for newer employees to become acclimated into a new climate/culture/work environment much quicker.

  •         Untapped Potential Mentorship: My favorite type and often the most challenging.
Untapped potential mentoring takes place when an average or underperforming employee has a fantastic skill set or potential but has other components of their being preventing them from reaching their potential.  

Without question, there are numerous types of mentorship programs, but nearly all try to accomplish the following:  

-Foster personal & professional growth
-Create and/or develop a sense of career awareness
-Generate a thirst for knowledge
-Instill a desire to be great

In today's IT marketplace, mentoring programs are often put on the backburner due to a shortage of time and availability.  However, mentorship programs should not be taken lightly. In fact, a study done by Sun Microsystems University Mentoring Program followed the career progress of mentees over a five year period and it showed that mentees were 20% more likely to get a raise sooner than other employees and were promoted five times more often than those who did not have a mentor. 

Here are 4 ways mentors help mentees get ahead faster:

1.      Talent Development: Everyone wants top talent.  A mentoring program can allow an organization to use its top performers to help others grow into top performers.

2.      Knowledge and Contacts: Mentoring programs often lead to introductions, networking events, and knowledge transfer.  As top performers progress in their careers, it is often more about who you know than what you know, to help get to the top.

3.      Wisdom/Insight: One of the most important aspects of a mentoring programming is preventing the mentee from making the same mistakes the mentor has made.  If it took the mentor 10 mistakes before they earned their promotion, sharing that insight could lead the mentee down a much quicker path to reaching new heights.

4.      Improved Performance: A good mentor will provide you with valuable feedback or make suggestions that will enable you to improve your skills or to experience personal growth, ultimately leading to your improved performance.

As an organization, if a mentoring programming can help our new hires, average, struggling, or even most successful employees continue to grow, it will in-turn, allow our business to grow and will continue to push that ceiling even higher.  About 70% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs because the results give them a competitive advantage. If an organization not only values the success of their business, but also the relationships and long term growth of their employees, the organisation will likely better retain top employees.

To conclude, mentorships can be invaluable.  The wisdom, insight, or development that employees gain today, may lead to a career track that may have never been possible.

The role of social media in extremism and radicalisation

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This is a guest from David Wright, director UK Safer Internet Centre at SWGfL, who explores the dangers to children's wellbeing posed by political extremists on social media and outlines the steps schools can take to protect students from indoctrination online.

According to estimates, approximately 700 UK citizens, including many teenagers, have travelled overseas to join conflicts. They include three teenage girls from Bethnal Green in East London who were thought to have travelled to Syria.David Wright.jpg

The BBC reported that the families of the three 15 year-olds have appealed for them to return and said that there were no signs they were planning to go to Syria.

Prevent, the government's counter-terrorism strategy, was written in 2003 with prevention as a key priority. It focuses effort and resources on 'priority areas'. In these areas, those working with children typically have a general understanding of the threats posed by radicalisation.
However, the increasing use of online tactics and social media by extremists has changed how these ideas spread. These technologies don't recognise 'priority areas'; they extend across the entire country.

The threats we are seeing take many forms. There are the high-profile incidents of young people travelling to countries such as Syria and Iraq to fight, but there are less obvious and wide-ranging risks. The Internet, and in particular social media, is being used as a channel, to not only promote and engage, but also, as suggested by Robert Hannigan (Director of GCHQ), as a command structure.

In response, towards the end of 2014, the UK Safer Internet Centre issued a briefing to all local safeguarding children boards to highlight this issue.

Clearly, everyone has a responsibility to report a concern about a child but the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 obliges schools and other authorities to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. The guidance lists five key areas:

-    Risk assessment: Schools must assess the risk of their children being drawn into terrorism, as well as their support for extremist ideas and terrorist ideology. They should have robust safeguarding policies to identify children at risk, and appropriate intervention and referral options. The policy should also cover the suitability of visiting speakers.

-    Working in partnership: Schools in England are required to ensure that their safeguarding arrangements take into account policies and procedures of their local safeguarding children board.

-    Staff training: Schools should ensure that their staff are equipped to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism, as well as challenge extremist ideas. They should know how to refer children and young people for further help. The Home Office's free training product about radicalisation awareness, Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent (WRAP), may be a suitable option.

-    IT policies: Schools are expected to ensure that children are safe from online terrorist and extremist material in school, typically using filtering systems.

-    Monitoring and enforcement: Ofsted inspectors will assess a school's approach to keeping children safe from the dangers of radicalisation and extremism and what is done when the school suspects that pupils are vulnerable to these threats. If a school is considered to be failing in this regard or if their staff or children's safety is threatened, maintained schools will be subject to intervention and academies or free schools may be subject to termination of funding. For independent schools in England or Wales, they must remedy any failing or be subject to regulatory action. Early years settings are also covered by this monitoring provision.

The power of the Internet and social media has highlighted a need for an open and ongoing dialogue in our communities - among children, young people, parents, carers, schools and wider - to ensure that young people have the skills to be critical thinkers online and are resilient to online extremism, whether from groups like Islamic State or from others.

To support schools with e-safety, South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) has created 360 degree safe, a free online self-review tool and Boost, a comprehensive online safety toolkit.    

The true value connectivity can bring to startups

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This is a guest post by Ben Dowd, business director at O2 who shares why connectivity should lie at the heart of every startup operation. 

While it is true that access to broadband and transport links are essential in enabling the growth of digital start-ups, it is even more important that businesses of all sizes understand the true benefits that connectivity can bring. 

It's no secret that one of the major advantages UK small businesses have over larger enterprises is their agility and ability to respond quickly to ever changing landscapes. The rate at which the UK creates and adopts new technologies is increasing all the time and it is those businesses who are the quickest to react who will see the biggest benefits. Small businesses are able to simply avoid many of the challenges of scale that come with size, whether that's coordinating the work of hundreds of employees across multiple locations or sharing knowledge across disparate functional groups. As a result of this greater flexibility, small businesses are naturally better able to respond to new challenges and opportunities - but it is possible for businesses of all sizes to do this and the secret to success lies in better connectivity.

Many larger businesses have already realised this and are embedding digital at the heart of their strategies. O2 research commissioned recently, showed that digital interaction in businesses leads to increased job efficiency and business productivity.

In fact, a third (36%) of senior management and a quarter (24%) of employees in Britain's largest organisations believe using more business technology for customer and employee interaction will lead to greater business productivity and more than 70% of senior managers think the use of technology for customer interaction has already had a positive effect on their organisation.

I would urge start-ups to take heed of these statistics and ensure connectivity lies at the heart of their operation from the outset. I also have three key pieces of advice for start-ups wanting to make the most out of technology for their business. 

Firstly, employees must be equipped to work anywhere. Research that we conducted with CEBR last year found that 80% of businesses report that staff do not have full access to the key business systems that would make their working lives easier and more efficient, including the technology to work away from the office. We can easily overcome this problem by something as simple as ensuring that every employee has a company laptop and mobile.

Secondly, business owners need to consider the benefits to their customer service of accessing the fast and reliable connectivity of 4G, which allows them to respond to orders and enquiries quickly and efficiently, from any location with any mobile device. The cost of connectivity equipment isn't prohibitive. Laptops, smartphones and 4G dongles are all easily available to businesses of any size. 

Finally, businesses of all sizes spend too much time and money on travel that isn't always necessary. Whether it's between home and the office or between multiple locations around the UK, employers should make journeys more efficient. Our research shows that measures like investing in remote working technology, from webmail to 4G connectivity for laptops, could save employees 127 hours per year.

Every business must understand its own connectivity deficit and take measures to close it. Even small improvements, such as using smartphones, mobile apps, and cloud computing services, will help drive business productivity and restore the UK's competitiveness within Europe and beyond. 

Codio video runs through BCS Certificate in Computer Science Teaching

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Codio has released an Ask the Expert's video which investigates the best ways of teaching computer science through coding in schools.

This is the third video in the Ask the Expert's series from Codio, with the episode focusing on the BCS Certificate in Computer Science Teaching. codio.jpg

The video gives advice to teachers who are considering taking the computer science accreditation.

Throughout Sue Sentance, National Academic Coordinator at Computing at School (CAS) and Senior Lecturer in Computer Science Education at King's College London speaks to Codio about the structure of the certificate and the benefits for teachers.

BCS e-assessors Ghita Kouadri Mostefaoui and Fintan Culwin also provide their insight.

Phillip Snalune, co-founder of Codio, said, "Our collaboration with BCS underlines Codio's commitment to helping teachers reach the level of proficiency required to deliver excellence in the teaching of Computer Science.

"We hope that this video helps teachers understand what the certificate entails and how it could help them develop both their confidence and technical skills."

You can watch the video here:

Transforming student experience through technology

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This is a guest post from Simon Harrison, CIO, Kingston University

As a leading UK university, we want to make sure that our students get as much as possible from their time with us, whether that be in their recreational time or during their studies. We know what technology can give us the upper hand here because students have come to expect the same level of technology in their studies as they do in their personal lives. They have been using laptops, smartphones and tablets on a daily basis and have constant access to hundreds of applications, from social media and email to online banking and retail. Why should they not have the same supporting their education?

Matching millennial expectations

Month on month, we at Kingston are seeing more and more connected devices being used across the university, including a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) community of 20,000 students. Not only do they expect their tech to work when they come to university; they expect to use their own devices to do their academic work.

Research by one of our key partners and suppliers - cloud computing and virtualisation company VMware - showed just how high up technology is in a student's hierarchy of needs - it's second only to food and shelter. Half (46%) of the 1,000 students questioned stated that they considered the level of IT on offer when choosing their university. Yet more than a quarter (26%) said they didn't feel that the technology provisions at their university were consistent with the tuition fees they are paying. And of course with those fees being higher than ever, so are their expectations around technology. So, what can be done by IT departments to make sure they are meeting the needs of their students? 

Using technology to enhance learning

From our experience, technology is absolutely crucial for enhancing the learning experience, from infrastructure and networking, to the applications they make available and how they are accessed. It's also hugely important to be progressive and look forward, given that most of our revenues come from government funding or students. For us, that meant investing from the ground up by providing high-speed web and data access across the entire campus, and replacing our servers, storage and back-up hardware. Expanding on the existing infrastructure to create a 'university without walls', we then installed a virtual desktop solution with VMware. This means all students can work from anywhere on any device, with access to the applications they needed to study in a secure and efficiently managed environment. Given that we have around 600 teaching applications, which range from design and geoengineering through to statistical packages, access to these from any location is absolutely critical to support academic learning for our students.

Ultimately, universities need to realise how important technology is to students; 92% claim that having IT facilities can help them work in a more flexible way and enhance their studies. IT departments need to ensure students have a positive experience and that they can easily and reliably access the university systems and information to support their learning from any location and device - whether that is on campus or at home, in the UK or abroad. Supporting a generation of people who have grown up with the most advanced technologies at their fingertips is something we should all aspire to do.


Do IT professionals have to abandon technology to progress in their career?

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This is a guest post from Ivan Horrocks, senior lecturer in technology management at The Open University

It's a fairly common situation in IT: You've spent the last ten years becoming an expert in your field, impressing everyone along the way, and now your boss tells you they want you to go down the management route.

To some this is welcome news. They've done their time doing the hands on work, and their reward is a move towards senior management. But to others, nothing is more depressing than abandoning working with the technology they know and love to sit in board meetings and negotiate deals.

Most people want to feel a sense of progression in their careers, but this doesn't have to mean   changing tack into business management to get into senior management. Although relatively unrecognised, there is an important difference between mainstream business management and technology management. For those wanting to progress their careers whilst remaining in touch with the world of technology, a far more preferable route may well be the latter approach.

Ultimately technology management focuses on the relationship between the management of technology and innovation, and how these relate to other areas of management, including operations, finance, supply chain and logistics and strategy.  

This means looking at how existing technologies can work together to enhance an organisation's processes and products or services. It requires a broad perspective on what's available and an understanding of what works best, when, where and why. Technology managers appreciate how technology can be integrated; how the skills they and their team have can be employed to improve business operation and deliver value, both internally and externally, and where and when they need to bring new skills in to do so.

Technology managers are also technology strategists: always looking at ways to foster technological innovation. But implementation and application are also key concerns. Giving the teams you work with the time and space to experiment with different technologies, explore how they might work best, and develop or customise these for the benefit of your organisation and its customers.

As a strategist you will also need to guide this experimentation, create room for it to fail, and find ways to spot and develop what works. And you will need to model the consequences of integrating technology - understanding the impact it will have on staff and customers and ensuring there is appropriate training and support to make the new ideas a success.

What does success look like?

It is now widely accepted that IT no longer just provides the infrastructure for people to do business. We hear ever more about how strategic use of IT has transformed organisations and peoples' lives in exciting ways.

Increased connectivity has created new delivery models - from on demand video to legal and financial services delivered online - disrupting long established industries.

Sensors in wearables are transforming industries like healthcare which can monitor for warning signs without having to keep people in hospital beds, saving money and freeing up time for other patients.

Harnessing data is allowing better targeting and streamlining. Transport - from vehicles, fleets, trains and planes - all collect huge amounts of data from sensors which they are now using to model ways to use fuel, reduce delays and predict problems. 

These are all examples of the transformational uses of technology, particularly in business. They would all have been developed with the support of senior management and driven by the organisation's strategy, but requiring a detailed knowledge of technology development, selection, customisation and integration.

Becoming a technology manager

Technology has the capability to make a significant contribution to organisational performance, economic growth and social well-being. As a result, there is an increasing demand across public, and private sectors for people with both the operational and strategic capability to plan, develop and manage technology and technological innovation.

To pursue this route, you will need to build on your technical expertise by developing the knowledge and skills to make the right decisions about technology acquisition, exploitation, implementation and innovation. These may rarely be taught in undergraduate or vocational IT and computing courses but they build naturally on the education and experience of someone whose career has primarily focused on developing and delivering successful IT projects.

None of this means you shouldn't go the pure management route into senior management, if that's your preference. Technology specialists develop many core business skills and can make a huge contribution to a more general management role. It's just that they don't have to - now more than ever there is a demand for managers who have a deep knowledge and experience of technology. General management principles are necessary to progress, of course, but this can mean building on a specialism, not abandoning it.

Dr Ivan Horrocks is qualification director for technology management (TM) at The Open University. The TM programme is aimed at helping technology professionals and their organisations advance by using technology strategically to deliver innovation and drive the business forward.

From the classroom to the boardroom

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This is a guest post from Evanna Kearins, director of analytics, TIBCO Analytics

Harvard Business Review called data science the "sexiest" job of the 21st century, yet a survey conducted by the CBI warned that 39 percent of companies cannot find staff with the required skills and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and maths.

With the number of GCSE students studying IT-related subjects increasing, it is surprising to hear that student numbers for A-levels in computing and ICT have decreased. But whilst ICT is a subject that is helping to develop the skills data explorers need, other core subjects like Maths, English, History, Science and Business studies are also indirectly all helping to develop the next wave of data scientists and data explorers. The following core subjects being taught in schools are indirectly teaching students they skills they need to help fill the current skills gap:

ICT - The next generation is growing increasingly comfortable in using an array of devices and platforms. With the Internet of Things connecting devices, the volumes of data available are growing exponentially. In teaching children how to use platforms and understanding the nuances of each, they are also teaching fundamental skills needed by any data explorer.

Maths is another subject that can help students begin their career as a data scientist or explorer. Pupils are taught how to read charts and are able to gain a better understanding of comparing different patterns. These skills are not only needed in the class room, but by data explorers to make valuable business decisions as they seek to understand the data flowing through the organisation.

English - Being able to crunch numbers is important for a data explorer, but so too is having the ability to communicate the true value of this to the other board members. Communication is key in all walks of life so being taught English helps to translate numbers and data into meaningful insights that can transform the business. This is also crucial to bridge the gap between the business and IT functions.

History - Having an understanding of the past and how this will impact the future is also an important aspect. Just as students must analyse events in History, so must data scientists and data explorers. After all, past data trends can help shape the future through predictive analysis.

Science - Just like in an experiment whereby you have a hypothesis, methodology and then actively test for results, Science can help to identify what is fact vs. what is fiction. It is important to not just base data analysis on predictions. Understanding the difference between what the data says and what it actually means is a bit like a science experiment in itself!

Business studies - Interpreting the data is vital for any data scientist. But what happens to the data once it has been analysed? Through exploring the data and understanding the different areas of the business, data explorers should be able to identify how data analytics can impact every part of the business.

We are all now an intricate part of a new ICT ecosystem, one built on big data, apps and industry innovation. This is something that the graduates of today know better than anybody else. Making sure young people have the right skills may well be only half the battle, but there is a greater opportunity than ever before to build upon student interest, encourage the training of a wider skillset and help to find the innovators of the future who will play a valuable role in bridging the data scientist skills gap.

The growing importance of critical thinking in IT education

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This is a guest blog by Dr Arosha K. Bandara, senior lecturer in Computing at The Open University

A criticism often levelled at IT education is that by the time you come to apply the skills, they might be out of date. Why learn technology skills when that technology might not be in use in a couple of years?

Arosha Bandara.jpg

IT does change fast, but the fundamentals of how we design and build systems change at a slower pace. As long as we learn about today's technology in the context of how it relates to the business world and how it is likely to evolve, then we will be in a much better position to respond intelligently to the changing world.

But this is often overlooked by both formal and in-house training programmes, which have favoured skills which address very specific challenges. In order to be adequately prepared to tackle tomorrow's technology challenges, we need to move from a mindset of knowing how to apply technology to well understood situations, to one of being able to think critically about problems, and identify solutions to unknown as well as familiar technology issues.

Think differently

To prepare IT professionals for the rapidly changing world of technology, we need to instil an approach based on critical thinking. I'll look at how we might do this, before putting this approach in context.

The organisation you work in is complex. It is shaped by the nature of individual thinking processes as well as existing technology and business pressures. Any changes will have causes and consequences that may have a much wider impact. Solving a problem will change things, which could lead to other problems.

Different people see different priorities. There is sometimes no obvious answer, or many different reasonable answers.  But there are also wrong answers, which can be pursued, sometimes at great cost. These often result from a very narrow focus on the problem out of context.

Interconnections are too often ignored, a single cause may be presumed, or an individual quickly blamed. This is not exclusive to IT, we see this in wider society all the time - it's easier to blame crime on individual criminals than deal with the many complex societal factors that lead some to criminality. The other mistake is a focus on outcomes - ie how many criminals can we arrest rather than how many crimes can we prevent.

To avoid these mistakes, problems should be approached by thinking about the systems that affect the challenge or opportunity. This is more difficult than isolating and addressing a problem, but ultimately more likely to produce a better solution.

Thinking about systems

As well as looking at how technology works, it is necessary to think about how people will react to it. Is a great new technology too hard to learn? Will tough new security procedures incentivise people to circumvent them? We need to understand the systems in which new technology operates.

Cognitive mapping is a technique for understanding and shaping the mental models your stakeholders use to per­ceive, contextualise, simplify, and make sense of otherwise complex problems. Thinking through these will help ensure new technologies and programmes have the results they are supposed to.

However good your plan is, you won't foresee everything, so it is also critical to continuously test and review, and feed that learning into your ever evolving plans. Throughout the life cycle of any project, topics such as stakeholders, finance, risk, people, project administration and quality must be constantly reviewed in the context of the project.

The world of the future will require more understanding of flexible management. We will have to place more emphasis on learning as we go and making sure that learning changes our practice and organisations. We need to get used to this.

Critical thinking in context

Two core skills of any modern IT professional are cyber security and software engineering. Both relate to complex real world challenges and can only be dealt with effectively if they think critically.

Firstly, cyber security. Any IT professional needs to fully explore the available security technologies and stay up to date with them. But they also need to think through the risks that may arise in all relevant aspects of an organisation's operations which may impact security, including human factors, web services and system upgrades.

You also need to be able to plan for when things do go wrong. Again, this needs an understanding of attackers' motivations and employee weaknesses, as well as of the technologies available to circumvent your defences, and a sense of how these could evolve. It also requires an understanding of the legal frameworks and technologies relevant to digital forensics, which are essential when responding to cyber security incidents. Only then can effective plans be made.

Teaching all this must be put in a real world context. In our own post-graduate courses, most students learn these techniques by crafting a fit-for-purpose Information Security Management System for the organisation where they work.

Secondly, software engineering. Contact between the business and the external world is often mediated by software, and the business has a responsibility to its wider community that may be served, or jeopardised, by this software.

Skilled software engineers can add a lot of value by creating or adapting software, from managing projects and sales, analysing performance and customer data, and automating tasks. All of these exist in a complex real world, where humans react to change in different ways. Any new system must understand how users or customers will respond to it.

The skill is not one of knowing how to do this, it is one of knowing how to model the relationships between the software, the organisation it serves, and its wider environment. This approach must be used in development, roll out, updates and maintenance - it is an evolving process.

Critical thinking doesn't mean ignoring technology, of course. The process can be evolved further by an understanding of different software engineering tools that can help them simulate, manage and monitor. Using these effectively is part of the skill of good IT planning.

A critical approach allows you to plan effectively

IT is critical to business and will become ever more so. It exists in an increasingly networked and interconnected world, where groups, teams, organisations and even nations will have to be smarter in their ways of working together.

IT professionals therefore need to be able to think in ways that reflect these challenges. IT education at all levels must teach how to take a critical approach which relates technical competencies to complex technological, human and business issues.

Dr Bandara teaches Postgraduate Computing courses at The Open University aimed at helping IT professionals advance by using technology strategically to drive the business forward.


Scott Logic's 'A Day in the Life' employee stories

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Software consultancy Scott Logic has published a series of 'A Day in the Life' employee stories to give an insight into what it is like to work in technology.

Those interested in working at Scott Logic, or just interested in hearing about different IT roles, can learn about jobs such as graduate developer, developer, senior developer, lead developer, technical architect, head of development, test engineer and lead test engineer.

John Wright, recruitment manager at Scott Logic, said: "We've grown steadily over the past 10 years and as most companies often experience, the real people and their stories can be lost behind traditional corporate content used on company websites.

"The response we received from our staff was amazing and their stories clearly communicate what it's really like to work at Scott Logic."

Scott Logic has offices in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Bristol and London and plans to grow its workforce by 50% in 2015. 

"Lessons will Be learned": Safeguarding in schools

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This is a guest blog from Martin Baker and Mike Glanville are former chief officers of Dorset Police, now directors of One Team Logic, providers of MyConcern safeguarding software for schools.


Question: Which Google search returns 366 million hits?  Answer: 'Lessons Will

Martin Baker.jpg

 Be Learned'.  OK, not all of these hits refer to safeguarding but you get the point; this hackneyed phrase has become the media statement of choice following every instance of incompetence, negligence, malfeasance or tragedy.  But when the media interest wanes are those lessons really learned? And what does that mean in the context of safeguarding in schools[1]?


Firstly, some background.  The 1973 public inquiry into the death of seven-year-old Maria Colwell laid the foundations for the UK's contemporary child protection procedures. Since that time a litany of tragic incidents has resulted

Mike glanville.jpgin further fundamental 

changes in legislation.  These developments have been accompanied by a plethora of Government guidance and recommendations from innumerable Serious Case Reviews (SCRs)[2] following the death of or serious injury to a child.  So, there is no shortage of 'lessons to be learned' in relation to safeguarding, and not least in education.


Yet the processes underpinning one of a school's most fundamental duties - to safeguard its pupils - continue to operate like a 1950s bureaucracy.  In 2015 our 'digital natives' are being safeguarded by a regime steeped in paper, brown manila folders, four-ring binders and filing cabinets.  In UK schools today you will find a huge range of information and technology to support almost every aspect of education - but not safeguarding.  And this at a time when safeguarding has never been more complex, nor the legal duties on schools more stringent.  The ever-present risk of abuse, neglect, the contemporary challenges of child mental health, e-safety, child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, extremism and radicalisation, the multiple issues from home and community that can affect child development and wellbeing - a whole world of risk passing through our school gates on a daily basis.  And all predominantly managed on paper and email.   Add to this the pressure on schools to pursue targets, the limited time available for training and the austerity-driven reductions in local authority (LA) support and it becomes clear that 'learning lessons' isn't straightforward.


So who is accountable?  Ultimately, it is the responsibility of headteachers, governing bodies and academy sponsors to ensure that safeguarding practices in schools are effective.  But how do they know?  In the age of 'big data' it is startling that, because of the paper-driven nature of the safeguarding systems in schools, there is little-to-no data of any practical use to assist schools, their LAs or their Local Safeguarding Children's Boards to track threats and predict trends in order to protect children. (By law, schools must provide an annual safeguarding report to their governing bodies; this is often very short, containing only a handful of manually compiled statistics).  'After the fact', Ofsted inspects school safeguarding arrangements and allocates a grade - if your safeguarding is 'Inadequate' so is your school.  But by then the damage could have been done.


During our policing careers we saw the tragic consequences for victims and families when safeguarding failed, and as school governors we have observed the endless paper trail that accompanies safeguarding in education.  We have examined in detail every piece of legislation, policy and guidance and every relevant Case Review.  This resulted in us designing an integrated approach to safeguarding that seeks to incorporate all of the 'lessons learned' in relation to: governance, leadership and management; preventing harm; recording concerns; case management; information sharing within schools and with other agencies; recruitment, vetting and training; allegations of abuse against staff; data protection and subject access; information security; records transfer between schools; the retention of records (25 years in respect of child protection - good luck with the paper!) and the vitally important issue of learning from the data.


Our schools are full of committed members of staff who succeed in safeguarding through their own skills and determination, despite the very poor systems and tools at their disposal.  We are now able to provide not only the information but also the technology that they need and deserve in order to deliver on their safeguarding responsibilities. We've recently joined the E2BN ThinkIT framework, designed to make IT simple for schools, because we believe that schools should be able to access good support from trusted organisations, and that lessons should be learned!    

[1] England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own child protection legislation, albeit there are many similarities; this article focuses on the current arrangements in England.

[2] SCRs are held following the death of or serious injury to a child where abuse or neglect is thought to be involved; in 2014 in England alone there were 58 SCRs, the majority of which related to child deaths.

Technology security in schools - how digital safeguarding isn't just managing online access

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This is a guest blog from Stone Group and Advanced Security Consulting.

Stone Group's Simon Harbridge and security consultant Jay Abbott of Advanced Security Consulting recently got together to discuss the worrying issue of security in schools and how technology helps and hinders its progress. What they talked about may surprise you.

Simon Harbridge: Jay, you and I recently attended the same debate on digital safeguarding, and we found a lot of common ground. I was quite surprised that the conversation seems to be still revolving around simply educating kids about the dangers of online conversations. Were you?

Jay Abbott: I wasn't taken aback, but I was a little concerned by it, as were you I think! We were talking with highly influential people, from NASUWT, Childnet, ParentZone, as well as heads of school. I felt that there was a fixation on the damage that being online can cause, and the knock-on effects on teachers and pupils, rather than a need to solve the root issues.

Simon Harbridge: Agreed. There were several moments of clarity, one being a comment that kids don't respect or use the term 'e-safety', so we shouldn't either, and another being that kids don't distinguish between on and offline conversations or relationships - they are all part of their social mix. I can relate to that, because we're spending a lot of time with schools who want to foster an environment of location independent learning - bringing education to life with lessons outside the classroom that use elements such as Augmented Reality to bring things online into the offline world. BYOD and one to one device schemes are driven by this change. It's kind of exciting, seeing technology be such an integral part of day to day life in schools, especially as it's matching children's expectations about how life 'should' be.

Jay Abbott: Precisely, but from my experience, the focus needs to also be on the 'back office' parts of a school's technology, for the roots of digital safeguarding strategy to really take hold. No one to one device scheme, or digital policy is going to weather the demands on it, or the attacks on its security, without particular attention to the technology, and the people managing the devices.

Simon Harbridge:  Of course. We're working with a lot of schools at the moment to replace their obsolete Windows Server 2003 technology. Much of that is driven by the unique security threats to education that continuing to use it beyond the end-of-life Microsoft has decreed. We think about one in five schools will be left vulnerable. What kind of problems do you think sticking with obsolete technology like Windows Server 2003 can lead to?

Jay Abbott:  Well, in the context of a school, where an "us vs them" culture exists between the general user base and supporting infrastructure, maintaining strong internal defences is essential. The ability to attack and exploit known vulnerabilities has literally become child's play and can even be executed from mobile phones and tablets. Due to a combination of free access to the required tools, simple user interfaces, readily available information and video learning on how to use the tools and a general teenage desire to "mess around", any unpatched and out of date systems accessible from networks that students are attached to is a recipe for disaster.

Simon Harbridge: Yes. I wonder if enough schools consider that these sorts of attacks can come from within? There's a lot of focus still on the safeguarding issues sites such as ratemyteacher put into play, but more needs to be understood about the basics, such as the fact that without support on obsolete products, you are also without security, so the bottom line is, everybody in the school, and that school's data is vulnerable, regardless of the policies, internet management software or pupil education schemes you have in place.

Jay Abbott: Ofsted focuses on digital safeguarding and the penalties for failure to make sure the standards are heavy, and lots of schools understand that. But more needs to be done to promote understanding that technology's role in your Ofsted rating doesn't begin and end with the device in the child's hand. I would urge Ofsted themselves to speak more about this and offer clearer guidance.

Simon Harbridge: We met with David Brown, the ICT lead at Ofsted and had a very interesting conversation about data protection and the lack of awareness in schools of its importance. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) can, and will turn its attention to education soon - the NHS has recently been audited and the public sector must be held accountable for the information it safeguards. Schools should be thinking about the safety and security of their pupil and teacher data as a matter of course, before any increased scrutiny begins.

Jay Abbott: Yes, and again, data compliance and security is a 'back office' issue. Education really needs to continue to get its entire house in order, not just the front line of technology. 

Want to think like a CEO? Try thinking like a 14 year old first

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This is a guest blog by professor Steve Ross-Talbot, senior director and venture leader, Cognizant

If you set a group of year nine pupils a challenge, it is striking how creative they can be. In a brainstorm, it always impresses me how they are able to immediately think laterally and intuitively, pulling in reference points from their friends, family, their environment and their use of modern technologies like social media. Having run similar sessions with groups of experienced executives, it is fascinating to see that these students most accurately reflect the role of the CEO, who has to approach all new ideas with an open mind.

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This was one of the discussion points at the latest 'Insight Day' held at the Cognizant London offices earlier this month, in conjunction with Teach First and attended by students from five schools in the Hounslow area. As part of Cognizant's STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) initiative designed to get children enthused about science and technology subjects, the pupils brainstormed wearable technology ideas, coming up with genuinely perceptive innovations.  These included a football shin-pad with a chip to highlight diving or injuries, and a hat for explorers with GPS and a panic button synced with rescue operations. As part of the panel at the event, I was astonished at the creativity exhibited by the pupils and the energy and enthusiasm they showed in brainstorming and presenting business ideas.

This type of initiative is hugely important if we are to actively tackle the STEM/STEAM skills shortage in the UK. Figures from 2013 from the Digital Skills for Tomorrow revealed that around 745,000 additional workers with digital skills will be needed to meet the rising demands between 2013 and 2017 in the UK, with 900,000 vacancies across Europe by 2020 according to European Commission numbers.

In order to meet this shortfall, it is essential that businesses and schools work together to engage students at an early age by demonstrating the variety and range of career options available to them. Brainstorming STEM/STEAM ideas with relevance to the students' everyday lives certainly helps, but in fact just travelling to Canary Wharf and getting a taste of office life - even if just for one day - can be a real eye opener. Running the session outside of the school environment also helps it to be memorable. Since the Insight Day, the teachers involved have told us that the students remained engaged with the topic and even wanted to continue researching and brainstorming more ideas.

Something else which was particularly encouraging was the role which the girls played in their teams. With daily reports that the STEM/STEAM skills shortfall is particularly acute amongst women who, despite making up 46 per cent of the UK's work force, fill only 16% of IT and telecoms professional occupations, it was fantastic to see the girls at the event actively engaging with the discussions and often leading the presentations. With news also showing that less than 5% of girls in OECD countries contemplate pursuing a STEM/STEAM career, events which engage females at school age are crucial if we are to find greater balance in the future.

Crucially, with over 75% of new jobs in the next five years requiring STEM/STEAM expertise, the industry must recognise the need to increase the number and diversity of students in these subjects, working alongside the education system to encourage them to enter this field.

Days like these where we come together to give the pupils an opportunity to air their ideas in a setting like Cognizant shows them how their imagination can lead to significant results; as an outcome of this event, it is highly likely we will have seen at least one future entrepreneurial millionaire. Sparking new ideas is hugely rewarding and a proven way in which to encourage school children: one that should also inspire experienced business people to think a bit more like their inner 14 year old.  

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. 


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