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/.

 

Solving the graduate STEM skill shortage: What can we learn from the financial sector?

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This is a guest blog by Tony Virdi, head of UK banking and financial services at Cognizant.

A subject of much debate over the last few months, the CBI and many of its members agree that there is a severe shortage of advanced and technical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills and that this shortage needs to be addressed imminently. The 2013 Education and Skills Survey showed that 39% of UK firms struggle to recruit workers with the appropriate skills. Even though the 2013 Autumn Statement announced an extra £185m for more technical subject teaching at university level in England, seeing real progress might still take some time.

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For now, the latest round of graduates busy applying for jobs are still likely to face barriers due to a lack of experience, average university exam results or simply being put off by the STEM sector altogether. In order to introduce more and better skilled graduates to a STEM career, especially women, it is not just government and the education sector that will play a big part; the wider STEM sector has a major role to play as well.

However, some sectors are doing better than others in addressing the skills' shortage. Financial organisations, for example, are already addressing the issue directly by providing more in-house technical training schemes, and other sectors could adopt a similar approach.

Firstly, it is about communicating the opportunities and benefits of working in IT and technology- related fields to attract more graduates. As those who work in IT know, technology is a fast-paced and constantly changing sector and one in which innovative and entrepreneurial individuals thrive. Secondly, recent research for the Complete University Guide also indicated that graduate salaries within IT have increased compared to an overall decline, an obvious incentive to move into this sector, as well as the sheer number of jobs available: the European Commission  estimates that Europe might face a shortage of up to 900,000 ICT professionals by 2020. However, with many still lacking the skills and training required, what can be done to boost the number of applicants as well as boosting their confidence?

In the banking sector, we have already started to see some businesses take the initiative by encouraging and supporting school-age pupils to consider STEM careers, eventually leading to potentially becoming the graduate intake of the future.   For example, Cognizant is working closely with Teach First, a charity with the vision that no child's educational success is limited by their socio-economic background. As one of the charity's primary focuses is on encouraging young people to take an interest in STEM subjects, a number of our senior executives are volunteering some of their time in the classroom to support the charity's emphasis on STEM subjects. By connecting our employees with teachers and their pupils, we can help tackle educational inequality and encourage higher education whilst providing tangible business benefits, particularly in STEM related subjects.

This early stage, collaborative approach to entry-level IT and business training is fairly unique across all industries at the moment. However, we expect to see greater demand for this, as more and more businesses start to realise the benefits of addressing technical skills' shortages directly. Having this control also means they can tailor the training programmes with their selected partner to ensure the candidates are better prepared for their specific roles. 

In addition to mentoring and teaching technical and business skills, graduates should be exposed to different markets early on. Global companies are in the best position to offer work opportunities in different countries. Learning about different cultural practices and business models will not only enrich their careers and allow graduates to stand out from the crowd from the beginning, it also benefits companies themselves. It allows individuals in different regions to impart knowledge and skills relevant to their markets and, at the same time, it gives graduates the opportunity to understand national differences and gain valuable insight into the organisation's own culture. The value is all about increasing enterprise knowledge and skills. 

The industry should also focus on promoting more prominent women to encourage more female graduates into STEM careers. Although women now make up 46 per cent of the UK's work force, only 15.5% of the STEM workforce is female[1].  More can be done to fill this gap and having strong role models will help with this. Once on board, it is also important to ensure that women are given equal opportunities and support throughout their careers.

Although the STEM skills shortage has already been acknowledged by the education system,  the CBI and industry itself, organisations should take the lead to ensure they get the best talent entering the business which is then equipped with the right skill set according to the industry's requirements. After all, in the digital age having the right skills within the business will help them run better and give competitive edge by supporting and nurturing tomorrow's innovators. The banking sector has already made good progress in introducing graduates to IT and technology expertise. It is up to other sectors to follow suit and assess their approach now, to address their own skills shortages.







Bridging the skills gap: Security process automation

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This is a guest blog by Jody Brazil, CEO of FireMon

One of the most pressing issues in IT security management today remains the critical shortage of skilled professionals available to address current demands.

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For example, an April 2014 study conducted by Frost & Sullivan found demand for 4.25 million security professionals by 2017, with only 2.25 million trained workers worldwide today, a 47 percent shortfall.   

The situation clearly amounts to a significant challenge and this means that today's enterprises, and truthfully organisations of all sizes, find themselves in the position of needing new methods to get more out of existing IT security teams.

One available solution is the continued maturation of technologies that automate security tasks, freeing up workers to address other responsibilities. In many cases, leveraging automation also proves advantageous in performing widespread, highly repetitive tasks using computer intelligence, allowing humans to focus on jobs that require creative ingenuity.

Network firewall management is one area where automation can maximise staffing resources and greatly improve overall efficiency. These devices, and the policies that dictate their configurations, have often been in place for many years and become overly complex and inefficient.

This situation also represents one of the most troubling aspects of enterprise security, as the lack of effective review and adaptation of network access often leads to opportunities for malicious attacks and subsequent breach incidents.

Additionally, firewall policies are constantly expanded and revised to support evolving business needs, heightening the issue. As a result of these factors, industry analysts Gartner report that "through 2018, more than 95 percent of [all related] breaches will be caused by firewall misconfigurations, not firewall flaws."

Automation is also particularly helpful in addressing firewall rules and policy management because the involved review process must be practiced continually to prevent emerging risk exposures, driven by ongoing change.

Industry experts such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) back this continuous assessment approach in nearly all of their best practices (including the NIST 800-53 and 800-41 frameworks).

This is also an area where computing intelligence is clearly preferable to manual, hands-on methodologies - in a typical enterprise this process involves the ongoing evaluation of tens of thousands of rules distributed across hundreds of firewalls.

Using humans to complete this work is neither a practical nor professionally rewarding approach, as it involves documenting each rule, evaluating it against a policy, and then reviewing this data with relevant business owners, which can take hours... per rule! To do this effectively using manual processes would result in the need for dozens of full time staffers within a typical enterprise.

It's also worth noting that leveraging such "process automation" addresses the most significant element of this challenge without putting the network or security at greater potential risk, as could be the case by automating configuration changes without human oversight.

Beyond the opportunity to free up and empower existing staff, automating firewall rules and policy review - along with related risk management tasks - advances other tasks such including mandated compliance audits (such as for PCI DSS).

By using automation tools such as FireMon's for firewall analysis, policy validation, change reporting, documentation and many other related processes, some organisations have been able to cut compliance audit staffing by over 50 percent.

To address the current security staffing shortage organisations need to help their existing employees increase productivity and cover more territory until the necessary reserves eventually arrive, if ever.

The best manner of accomplishing this goal is leveraging automation to allow security teams to do so, and automating network firewall management is a prime example of how this feat can be realised.

Why is the BBC launching Make it Digital?

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This is a guest post from Jessica Cecil, project controller at the BBC. 

 

Last October, director-general Tony Hall said he wanted the BBC to embrace one big education project a year. In 2014 it is World War One. I'm delighted to announce that in 2015, the BBC's new Make it Digital initiative will shine a light on the world of digital creativity and coding. And that is exactly what we are going to do. But because there's so much to highlight we thought we'd start early, so at the start of the new school year for most, we are giving a taste of what we have planned.

 

The very first Make it Digital examples include our brand new Bitesize guides to support the new Computing curriculum that is being introduced in England. We're also launching relevant Computing content for pupils studying the subject in curricula across the rest of the UK. Our content supports both primary and secondary school pupils as well as their teachers and parents - all under the Bitesize brand for the first time.

 

Alongside these BBC Learning projects we have some exciting children's programmes coming out this Autumn that will help inspire our youngest audiences to discover the digital world and to take their journeys of digital discovery further. Dick & Dom's Absolute Genius will become Appsolute Genius, Technobabble will look at the technology which will shape children's lives, and Nina and the Neurons will go digital. You can find the full detail here.

 

Why are we doing this? This generation of coders and computing creatives are standing on the shoulders of giants. The UK is the birth place of computer science, and pioneers such as Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing. We have just celebrated 25 years of the World Wide Web, created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and we are home to game-changing games makers and entrepreneurs like Michael Acton Smith from Mind Candy and Ian Livingstone.

 

And the BBC has history too: back in the 80's we made a commitment to inspire a generation to get passionate about computing. We broadcast hundreds of hours of TV, created a new coding language, and gave millions their first taste of computing with the BBC Micro.  It's firmly rooted in our public service commitments and is exactly what the BBC should be doing. And in 2015 we want to capture the spirit of what we did with the BBC Micro, but this time for the digital age.

 

The potential for this country's future is as rich as our past, but there are dangers. Martha Lane Fox estimates we are going to need a million more people working in the technology sector over the next ten years - but right now many of our youngsters are lacking the digital skills they need.

 

A wealth of fantastic organisations are already inspiring the next generation. Organisations like Code Club, Free:formers, Apps for Good, Coderdojo, Technology Will Save Us and Code Academy; enablers like Nesta, Nominet Trust, the Mozilla Foundation, the iDEA initiative, and the Make Things Do Stuff movement; big companies like BT, Microsoft, Google, Intel and Samsung are all running wonderful initiatives. However, it's a very different landscape to the one we had in back in the eighties when we launched the BBC Micro. So we've been talking to people across the digital and educational communities to help us define what the BBC can usefully do here, and help us answer these questions:

·         What can the BBC do in 2015 which no other organisation can deliver?

·         What are the ways in which we can partner most effectively?

 

Partnerships are the key to our approach. By working in partnership with others we want to celebrate the rich heritage of this country, but we want to play our part in inspiring a new generation to get active with computing. And that has never been more important - it helps all of us be active shapers of our world, rather than passive consumers.

 

Our conversations have highlighted that the BBC should work with the industry, raising awareness and inspiring people to get interested in coding and digital technology.

 

In early 2015 we will be able to share in-depth details of what is planned and there will be something for everyone. We want to show audiences how Britain has helped shape the digital world and why digital skills matter.

 

We will harness the power of our biggest shows - we have so many much-loved programmes and characters that can play a role introducing people to coding and digital technology. There will be new commissions, too, including dramas and documentaries. We want to do what we do best - tell stories that inspire and move people.

 

We will celebrate the UK's digital heritage, raise awareness, and help some people to take their first steps into the world of digital.

 

All our activity will link to online resources that will help our audiences play, learn and share, with a digital hub bringing all of this activity together. There will be off-air activity too, particularly focused on children and young people. We want to help people to find the fantastic resources which already exist, including learning opportunities across the UK and online. And in some cases, the very best of what they create will find its way back on to the BBC.

 

There's much, much more to come in the months ahead - including what we hope will be some life changing opportunities for school leavers so what we're announcing today is just the start.

 

With our partners we want to have a lasting impact and ensure we work with them to make a difference.

 

I hope this gives a flavour of how important this project is to us at the BBC and explains how we, and the industry, believe we can inspire people. I was asked to lead this project and pull it together so we, the BBC, can bring all of what we have to help highlight what is the future, to and inspire all our audiences to create the future.

 

Please do let us know what you think. We will update you as we build up to 2015 when we will have much more to share.

 

Why the government needs to address its fragmented approach to cyber skills

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This is a guest blog by Graeme Stewart, director of public sector strategy and relations, at McAfee

Earlier this year, the Department for Business and Innovation (BIS) launched Cyber Essentials, to accredit businesses which meet certain minimum cyber security requirements. The programme makes good sense, but the way it was developed is typical of the government's ad hoc and uncoordinated approach to cyber skills.

Cyber Essentials, as a BIS initiative, is aimed at helping businesses. But the obvious advantage of a government-led scheme is it can require its own suppliers to meet those standards - guaranteeing uptake and improving government security. So why was this not a whole government initiative?

This kind of approach is replicated everywhere. The Department for Education has promoted cyber skills for children through e-skills' Secure Futures schools campaign. The Home Office also recently launched a £4m information security awareness campaign about rising threat of hacking.  The Cabinet Office's Cyber Security Challenge is working to get people interested in cyber security careers.

Whilst these programmes are welcome and admirable, the government has fallen into its usual trap of creating multiple programmes in silos- duplicating resources, using its time and money poorly. Moreover, the government is missing a trick. Many cyber security companies have resources they'd love to share with government, schools and industry. The lack of coordination means this is largely overlooked.

Rather than doling out small amounts of money to each department, government should promote collaboration between departments on cyber security.

Fans of the status quo may argue this would result in a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. That's not true - different departments would still have the right to tailor programmes. But much of the underlying information is the same.

Most departments have similar basic security requirements, so why not work together on a cyber essentials style scheme for all government suppliers? This could then have various add-ons for different department's requirements.

And the DfE should lead on school level cyber security education, but it should run one programme for schools which coordinates the various resources available from different departments and companies.

Developing such a programme could invite cyber security companies of all sizes to offer their services and resources.

Someone needs to get representatives from different departments providing cyber skills programmes, and all the vendors, in a room together and join the dots.

The government has a duty to provide public sector organisations, business, and society at large with comprehensive cyber skills programmes. But it also has a duty to spend taxpayers money efficiently.

A unified scheme is within the reach of the government if someone would be willing to take the reins. Aside from saving time and money, it will promote the idea that cyber security should be at the core of every organisation, not an add on. Imagine a major company gave its marketing, finance, legal and HR departments separate cyber security budgets. It would make no sense, yet this is what government is doling on a much larger scale.

Cyber security companies have evangelised that organisations need security by default. But only the government has the power and resources to implement national programmes, and it can only do that through a coordinated approach. It is time for the government to stand up and lead the example.

The IT skills imperative

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This is a guest blog by Jane Richardson, Director of the Oracle Academy in EMEA

The UK job market, and in fact the job market across all of EMEA, is in trouble. Despite a growing need by businesses across virtually all industries for IT-savvy employees, the skills young people are learning in school simply do not correspond to their needs.  According a report released by the Prince's Trust, two-thirds of companies fear a lack of skilled workers could jeopardize Britain's economic recovery[1].

Jane Richardson.jpgThis reality is particularly concerning when it comes to IT and computing. A growing number of businesses are beginning to appreciate the benefits of high-value technologies such as the cloud and big data. From local start-ups to global enterprises, companies across the board are in need of data scientists, talented coders and programmers, and app developers but are struggling to find graduates who can actually fill these roles.

For their part, many young people that have put time and effort into their studies find themselves unable to secure jobs in the digital age. As a result, the world is experiencing a significant, global IT skills gap which is only set to widen. In Europe alone nearly one million IT jobs are lying vacant[2], while demand for freelancers with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills is surging by as much as 300 per cent around the world[3]. This is clearly a problem that must be addressed immediately.

But why exactly is it so important that we solve this problem? In short, developing IT skills is nothing less than fundamental to the future growth of businesses. It is every bit as important as other economic levers - such as infrastructure investment - in improving the balance sheet of a country. For countries such as Greece and Spain, that have experienced slow or negative growth over the last few years, every step possible must be taken to help businesses grow. Getting the right STEM, ICT and computing skills in place is a vital first step towards encouraging job creation and future innovation.

A deep pool of IT talent is also hugely important in enabling entrepreneurs to establish start-up businesses. SMEs form the backbone of the economy. In Europe alone, SMEs form 99 per cent of all business account for two out of three private sector jobs[4]. Having employees with the right IT and computing skills allows SMEs in every industry to utilise the latest technology bringing about cost and operational efficiencies that provide them with a competitive edge.

Furthermore, one of the hottest growth sectors in the SME space also happens to be within the technology sector, with tech hubs popping up across Europe to incubate and promote these companies. Clearly, any initial success that these tech start-ups manage to achieve will be severely curtailed if they cannot find the people they need to continue fuelling their growth. The IT skills gap is, in short, severely limiting the value technology companies will have to national economies in the future. By failing to develop graduates with the right STEM and ICT training we risk cutting off the oxygen supply to these growing organisations.

All of this raises an important question: why exactly is Europe facing such a huge skills gap in the first place? The answer lies in the fact that not enough students are taking computer science as a subject across all levels of education: primary, secondary, higher and graduate level.

At the primary and secondary school levels the main barrier to taking ICT or computing subjects at school seems to centre on the lack of awareness around how taking these subjects can lead to a variety of career paths.  Female students are met with another problem: IT careers are still seen as something of a male preserve and STEM subjects as masculine ones. This year's A-Level statistics show that the number of boys taking ICT is double the number of girls, while in computing, boys outstrip girls by nine to one[5]. In light of this, it's hardly surprising that the percentage of students taking ICT or computing at a secondary school level remains so low. Last year in the UK, fewer than 10,500 students sat an A-Level in ICT, and less than 4,000 sat exams in computing.

To solve this problem and encourage future generations to engage in a more digital literate future we must get students interested in STEM subjects. One way to do this is to make it clear just how many exciting and well-paid careers ICT and computing qualifications can lead to. Retailers, investment banks, fashion designers and production studios are just some of the businesses who need cloud computing-architects, big data experts, developers, computer games programmers, and animation coders who can contribute to their success.

For the current generation of students and graduates, a great deal of opportunity lies in gaining skills that will allow them to work in any industry. Of course, it will fall to governments and educators to take heed of the growing role of IT in business and place computer science at the heart of their curricula. Together we need to build a ladder of skills that will get students of all ages interested in computing, programming and coding and enable them to become the digitally literate experts that are so important to our future.

[1] The Skills Crunch: up-skilling the workforce of the future, The Prince's Trust and HSBC, 2014

2 http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/neelie-kroes/davos-jobs-skills/

3 https://www.elance.com/q/press/freelancers-stem-and-creative-skills-drive-record-breaking-growth-elance

4 http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/sme/facts-figures-analysis/

5http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/aug/14/a-level-results-2014-the-full-breakdown

Computer science student convinces comparethemarket.com to help source hardware

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18 year old BTEC IT student James Elmour contacted Computing at School to help with finding hardware for his project where he needed to test Android mobile software applications. 

Elmour, who studies at the City of Liverpool College, was pointed in the direction of comparethemarket.com where he pitched to its IT and software engineering team on why how the hardware would benefit him and his classmates. CTM Student Placement - Portrait.jpg

Comparethemarket.com helped him source several Hudl tablets, which are now being used by the students and their teachers on a daily basis in the college's computer science labs.

He was subsequently given a Student Research Award by his College. 

Elmour, said: "We are really grateful for the support of comparethemarket.com. Being able to use genuine Android devices for testing means we can develop bigger and better apps and make better use of all features on the device. It's definitely boosted morale and provided an incentive for higher grades."

James Lomas, IT director at comparethemarket.com, comments: "After meeting James and seeing his passion for software engineering we couldn't help but lend our support. His story truly struck a chord and we were compelled to make a contribution."

"Comparethemarket.com wants to provide students with the opportunity to learn how technology works. We support coding clubs in the Cambridgeshire area, which provides amazing opportunities for our engineers to introduce primary school children to computer science and also work with universities to help develop a syllabus that produces workplace-ready graduates."







Computer Weekly partners with Create! Campaign for Appathon

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Computer Weekly is pleased to announce a media partnership with the Create! campaign's Appathon competition.

 

The Create! campaign was launched by Founders4Schools and SVC2UK to help students to link the STEM skills they are learning at school with creating the IT businesses of the future.

Appathon logo.jpgAs part of the campaign the 'Appathon' is a competition which tasks young people with finding tech solutions to the challenges around them.

 

Sherry Coutu, chairman of Founders4Schools, told Computer Weekly that secondary school students will be asked to come up with ideas for apps they would want to use, and university students will be tasked with creating them.

Winning app teams will be invited to an awards ceremony in London during Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Computer Weekly will be covering the Appathon from start to finish, with insights from experts and students.

Supporting partners involved in the Create! Campaign include Apps for Good, Behind the Screen, TeenTech and Young Rewired State, Codecademy, Decoded, Code Club, iDEA, Kano, Raspberry Pi Foundation, Make Things Do Stuff, Microsoft and Cambridge University Press UK Schools.


Can you help? Technopop festival on hunt for loaned laptops, screens, Wi-Fi and more for 100,000 students

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I spoke with Technopop recently about its London festival due to take place over a course of four weeks, in East London.

Supported by Oxley International Holdings, the festival aims to provide an environment to inspire young people to consider IT in both their future careers and social lives.

Due to take place at The International Quarter (TIQ) on the edge of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, from 8 October to 2 November, entry is free for all children and students aged six to 19.

Thousands of students from all over the UK have already registered for the event, with an anticipated 100,000 to attend overall.

Understandably Technopop is on the hunt for companies willing to loan their equipment for use at the event.

They are particularly in need of laptops to be used in hackathons, Wi-Fi connectivity for the day and screens for presentations, etc.

If you work for a company that might be interested in helping out with equipment, please drop me an email at kbateman@techtarget.com.

Proving IT's value in a cloudy world: Widening knowledge and demonstrating value

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This is a guest blog from Gareth Cartman, director of digital marketing at Clever Little Design.

We've arrived at a point where most businesses - even the most sensitive - have accepted the role of cloud technology, and have even embraced it. The advantages are trotted out regularly - pay-as-you-go, flexible, secure, scalable and crucially - it's cheaper. Thumbnail image for gareth cartman image.jpg

Why is it cheaper? Because you don't need an IT department to upgrade & maintain the system for you - the cloud solution providers do it for you.

The emphasis has moved away from the technology simply because there's no need to manage the technology. And that is leaving IT departments in something of a quandary.

 Adapt or die, basically...

And for many, that means "die" 

Thoran Rodrigues calls it "death by obsolescence", and it's coming through a variety of channels:

Increased user knowledge: we know a lot more about how to manage our devices these days. Indeed, most of us can probably navigate our way around Windows, and the advent of BYOD adds in a whole other element. 

No need for infrastructure: cloud eliminates the need for servers, and therefore the need for people to maintain those servers and networks.

Better technology: compatibility is no longer an issue for many organisations - cross-browser compatibility is more or less standard, and while larger businesses are still on Internet Explorer (with its thousands of patches and workarounds), most of us have moved on to something more reliable. 

It's going to take a radical rethink of the way IT departments work, and that should start by thinking about the way IT professionals provide value to businesses. These last few years of economic downturn have put a sharp focus on ROI. Every asset is sweated, every penny needs to provide a return.

What of IT, in that case? 

Widening our knowledge

Knowledge of IT is one thing - knowledge of how IT is crucial to business performance is quite another. 

To start this, it's time to broaden out our knowledge of business processes and start to get involved at a deeper level. What is, for instance, the difference between CRM and ERP? Even if they're both provided in the cloud, there are decisions to be made at every level of the business and the choice of one over the other will have significant IT impacts. Equally, the selection of one provider over another will come with other impacts, and there is a sizeable consultancy angle here. 

Finding our opportunities

Indeed, this argument between CRM and ERP is an interesting one. While this debate may be playing out in other departments, the very fact that this technology is changing at such a rapid rate gives IT an opportunity to deliver significant value to the business. 

Knowing more about these technologies, and which ones integrate with existing systems, is going to be essential. Not everyone within an organisation is going to understand this to any significant degree, and there's a need for this level of expertise.

Furthermore, ensuring that providers respect Service Level Agreements, and that they are indeed providing the software upgrades to the level the business requires is going to be another key business requirement. Who is going to look after that? It has to be internal. It has to be IT.

Demonstrating our value

I'd go a step further from these basic business requirements and ask IT departments to look at areas where it can provide real value. For instance, how long does it take the average user to boot up a laptop in the morning? I worked in one organisation where we unofficially measured this and discovered that people spent an average of 12 minutes booting their laptops up.

In which time, they made a coffee, went for a chat with someone, and came back usually 15 minutes later.

That's 15 minutes per person, per day - wasted due to defunct IT equipment. Add on top of that the average of 15 minutes wasted due to crashes every day (on average, one per person) - then that's 30 minutes every day per person. Add that up across 200 people, and you've got... well, you can measure that. And you can measure it in pounds and pence.

What's the productivity impact of getting that time back?

That's one simple example of how IT departments can visibly measure their impact in terms that the board can understand.

In a clouded world, IT's role is changing demonstrably - by upping our game and getting in on the pounds and pence impact of quality IT provision, we can shape that new role and make ourselves indispensable again. The alternative is that we end up like most of the technology we've been responsible for - obsolete.

Employment in UK technology sector set to soar

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This is a guest blog by Sophie Christopher, head of events, PR and external marketing communications at Office Depot and Viking.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Sophie Christopher.jpgIt's safe to say that the past five years have been an extremely trying time for the UK economy. Since entering recession; Britain has seen industry sectors that were once described as sturdy and solid, such as construction, fight to survive. Although affected, the technology sector in the UK seems to have weathered the storm and has fought to maintain a level of strength, managing to still remain innovative and creative.

With positive reports on the improving economy, the first signs of recovery are being met with true optimism and those individuals who are fully immersed in the industry are pondering what's next in the technology market. According to UKTI, the technology sector is one of the largest wealth creators in the UK and has become one of the fastest growing sectors over the last decade. Recent research by Office Depot garnered unique insight into UK businesses spanning 15 industry sectors - including technology, and what was found was extremely compelling.

It's always difficult to draw realistic conclusions from what is reported in media headlines in relation to the state of the economy; however 41% of businesses owners and managing directors in technology believe that the positive reports about the economic upturn are completely accurate and representative of their sector. Our recent research was an opportunity to gain an honest overview of the sector at a grassroots level. Results revealed that 72% in the technology sector believed that business had improved over the last three months and 89% were expecting growth over the next 12 months.

This not only solidifies the general positive consensus of the sector, it also illustrates the mindset of those working in the technology field, with a focus at present to further expand not only their offering but also the value it brings to the UK economy.

As one of the most thriving sectors within the UK, recruitment is set to play a pivotal role in the industries further expansion.  Nearly three quarters of tech managing directors said that they would be recruiting this year, which would indicate a conscious and motivating step to grow the existing talent pool in order to elevate the UK's technology position further on a global platform.

What remains even more remarkable is the fact that managing directors are not anticipating the challenge of navigating a high turnover of staff, which often presents itself when positive reports about the economy become more common place. It would seem that businesses sense that employees feel content in the roles they currently hold, which is further reflected in the fact that when asked whether they feel pressure to give pay rises 55% said no. Although they don't feel under pressure, 50% did say that they would be rewarding staff with pay rises throughout 2014.

In comparison to other industry sectors involved in this research, those in technology remain confident in the future of the sector. As companies continue to push the boundaries of innovation there's a positive feeling that begins to grow in relation to the development of its fresh and original concepts - which means the sector is well on the way to meeting the vision of making the UK one of the leading technology capitals of the world.

Negotiation is the name of the game: How to get the best rates as an IT contractor

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Claire Johnson, managing director of contractor accountancy firm, SJD Accountancy, gives her top tips on negotiating the best rates for you and your business.

Working for yourself isn't just about being good at what you do, it is also persuading people that you are good at what you do.Thumbnail image for SJD claire johnson.jpg

Negotiating higher rates is often the more challenging part of contracting and the thing which some IT contractors can find difficult.

However, being good at negotiation can mean getting better rates, far higher than you would enjoy as a permanent member of an IT team. SJD's latest contractor attitude survey found that daily rates have increased by 20% in the last two years to between £ 500-£ 749.

Is this all due to how you sell yourself towards the end client? Or is the economy realising the value of contractors?

               1. Know what you're worth

Rates can vary depending on your skill set.  It's natural as humans for us all to want more money. However, no one is irreplaceable. Ensure you know the value of your skill sets and negotiate your price based on what you can bring to the company. Also have a set rate in the back of your mind, know where to draw the line and how far you can negotiate your rate. One of the golden rules is to aim high and expect to compromise.

 Negotiation is key whether going for larger, or smaller roles. If you know your own worth and know that you are in a strong position for a job - eg.  you have the experience and the ability  - and are willing to stand your ground, this can have a positive impact on your negotiating position and reputation.  If the client believes you are happy to walk away if you don't get the rate you want, then they might be willing to increase the budget.

2.              Value each job on its own merit

A trap which many fall into when working for themselves is to agree a rate and then stick to it. Often many come to a day rate that they believe their skills or experience are worth, regardless of the job remit.  Individually quote for each project based on the time and effort involved. This is particularly relevant if it is another contract within the same company. Many will expect a similar rate, regardless of the work involved. If it involves different skills or is more labour extensive, explain why and quote more.

3.              Can you afford to say no to smaller roles?

When people first start out on their own, they often go for as much work as they possibly can, assuming quantity is better than quality.  However, this isn't always the case. In the beginning, people often say yes to every role within their niche to help with their short turn revenue.  However, consider the economy, would it be more beneficial working for clients with a larger, more flexible budget, that might help with long-term revenue.

4.              Keep on top of trends

Knowing about the latest technologies, trends, systems and processes are essential when you work for yourself. Keeping in the loop with these can help you negotiate greater rates but also offer something that those who work within an organisation may not have. The training and new knowledge you have ascertained from one contract to the next is a great asset and make sure when you are pitching for work companies know about any new technologies, latest trends or processes you have worked on.

 Likewise, look for jobs that might broaden your experience. Nothing beats on-the-job experience as a training ground.

And the good news is that you can write off some training costs when you pay for them yourself. The rule is that they must "wholly and exclusively" relate to the contracts that you're generating income from at the time, meaning that a three-year part-time MSc in Computer Science probably wouldn't qualify if you are working on an IT contract. However, there is a little leeway from HMRC for cross-training.

5.              Look at the market closely

Likewise, ensure you keep a close eye on the market, even when you are securely in a contract.  Knowing what the market value is of a job, whether there is a shortage of skills and experience in what you do will help you negotiate higher rates for specific jobs.

Often this is forgotten when you have been working for the same company or one in a similar industry for a while. However, market rates change over time and within regions so make sure you know the current day value of your role within the area you are looking to work.

Finally, be fair. To yourself and to your clients. Remember to justify your higher rate based on your skills, experience and knowledge, yet remember that if you charge too much, you can be undercut and your reputation questioned. And ultimately, your reputation is still one of the most important revenue-generating assets you have.







Apps For Good Awards finalists announced

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I'm always so impressed by the Apps For Good Awards entries, so I was pleased to see that the 18 finalist teams have been announced by the judges.

All of the teams have been invited to a final Dragon's Den style round of judging at the Barbican Centre, where the panel will select the winners on 23 June.

The winning teams then work with development agencies to launch their app on the market, with the support of Apps For Good and its sponsors.

Finalists are also up for the People's Choice Award (PCA), which is decided through an online vote.

Winners of the PCA also have their app developed and launched to market. Voting for the PCA takes place on the Apps For Good website 11-23 June.


The Finalist teams are:

Connected Communities - Sponsored by TalkTalk

Fife College: GuideBook

Priestley College: Sweg Messenger

Shireland Collegiate Academy: Crime Time

Information - Sponsored by Thomson Reuters

Stratford Girls' Grammar School: I'm Okay

Westfields Junior School: Epic Sleepover

Sutton Grammar School for Boys: Occasion Location

Learning - Sponsored by Samsung

Hymers College:Crypto Connex

Sutton Grammar School for Boys: MyStudio

The St Marylebone CE School: My Spelling Bee

My Planet - Sponsored by Thomson Reuters

Budehaven Community School: ShoreCast

Highgate Wood School: Water Works

Westfields Junior School: Wildlife Spotter

Productivity

Wick High School: Chore Attack

Dr Challoner's Grammar School: Accumulus

Runshaw College: You Snooze, You Lose Maze

Saving, Spending, Giving - Sponsored by Barclaycard

The Abbey School: Swapsies

The Wroxham School: Pocket Money Pig

Thornleigh Salesian College: Delicious
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A coding conundrum - how will we bridge the skills gap?

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

With so much attention on 'The Year of Code' there has been a huge spotlight placed on those responsible for delivering Computer Science in education, aiming to develop the skills necessary for individuals to embark on a career in code.  On the face of it, this seems like a no-brainer but are we going about it the right way? The existing skills shortage will continue to deepen unless big changes are made. Peter Robbins 2.jpg

Coding is an extremely-skilled and malleable occupation but it's key that we realise a long-term plan that galvanises multiple parties from education and the industry to make it happen and in a compressed time frame. 

There has been plenty of opinion voiced about the Government's 'Year of Code', with many arguing that this hasn't been approached in the right way and therefore it could be a long time before we see any real progress. Indeed, getting such young children to code 'just like that' is setting expectations at the wrong level and devaluing the profession of software development in the process.

The UK Council of Professors and Heads of Computing recently predicted a 15 per cent rise in the number of IT jobs by 2022, and yet there are fewer and fewer graduates seeking roles in the sector - a decrease of 50 percent in the last decade in fact. This rings alarm bells - the UK is in real danger of falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to providing talent that can lead the way in innovation, which could seriously damage the economy in the long-term.

It is clearly important that children are inspired and taught the required skills, but coding needs to be approached in the right way, and by the right people.

The teaching curriculum, for example, historically taught children how to use software rather than how to build it. The new IT syllabus announced by the Minister of Education earlier this year, however, is starting to go in the right direction and could inspire the generation of coders we need. 

'Computer Science' will now be taught from Year 1 onwards, and could have children programming in more than two languages by the time they reach high school. Great, but to continue these first steps, we need to reinstate some fundamentals like binary, Boolean Logic and problem solving in relevant school years.    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.

Separately, at its heart software development is an engineering task and therefore Computer Science needs to be taught by teachers with relevant skills.  A survey by MyKindaCrowd found 74 per cent of ICT teachers don't feel they have the skills to teach computer science and almost the same number question whether the government will provide support to begin teaching the new subject.

To inspire young people to embrace coding, it's crucial that teachers are provided with the necessary support to develop their own skills and to deliver engaging lessons, whether through government, the industry itself, or through a collaborative effort.  

It is also essential that what is being taught in schools is applicable outside the classroom in the real world. This ensures that young people become 'work ready' with the necessary tools to enter the profession. At the same time, it's important that we explore the subject in enough depth to provide youngsters with the opportunity to develop transferable and relevant skills that will open doors to a wide range of career paths. But it is down to the industry to share knowledge with educators and support this process for maximum return.

Coding is a vocation that requires a great deal of skill and expertise and one that is constantly evolving. By creating a long-term shared plan, we can continue to hold our own on the world stage when it comes to software development, innovation and growth.

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Codecademy opens first international office in London

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Codecademy is opening its first London office, as the firm's free coding skills service sees demand internationally.

The New York based company has also partnered with governments and education groups in the UK, Brazil, France, Estonia and Argentina.

In the UK Codecademy currently works with 1,000 schools and two million people including teachers, students, businesses and entrepreneurs. Despite being based in the US Codecademy realised more than 70% of its 24 miliion users were spread across 190 other countries.

With a recent platform redesign Codecademy is now available in local languages to encourage more users to learn to code for free.

CEO and co-founder of Codecademy Zach Sims, said: "We want Codecademy to be a gateway to better opportunities and a better life. In order to achieve this on a global scale, we have educated ourselves on the specific needs of learners in different places and understand that learning isn't the same across the world.

"By working with partners in each country, we're ensuring that we don't just have learners in each country, but a robust community of learners, teachers and support to provide specific skills needed to succeed in anyone's workplace."

The Institution of Engineering and Technology opens awards for nominations

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The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is on the hunt for individuals who are making advancements in science, engineering and technology for its annual IET Achievement Awards.

The organisation is calling for people to nominate colleagues who work in research and development or for their leadership of an enterprise.

Nominations need to demonstrate "exceptional engineering contribution in developing a product, service or process."

Entries can be from those starting their careers through to established professionals. Winners receive a medal presented at a ceremony in November and some winners also receive prizes up to £500.

Barry Brooks, IET President said: "As one of the world's largest professional bodies for engineers and technicians, we are looking forward to being inspired by engineers who are delivering the best in engineering excellence, recognising both developing talent and those at the pinnacle of their career.     

"To counter the risk of their great work going unnoticed, these awards put the spotlight on exceptional individuals who are contributing to the advancement of engineering."

Last year's winner of the IET's most prestigious prize, the Faraday Medal, was Michael Pepper, the Pender Professor of Nanoelectronics at University College London. On his win last year he said: "I was greatly honoured by this award with its distinguished history. I feel that it shines a light on talent in the field of nanotechnology and I hope it goes on to encourage young people to begin their careers in engineering."

There are four IET Medals and six IET Achievement Medals to be awarded in the following categories:

Faraday Medal

The most prestigious of the IET Achievement medals, awarded for notable scientific or industrial achievement globally, within engineering or for conspicuous service to the advancement of science, engineering and technology or for life-time achievement in science, engineering or technology.

Mountbatten Medal

Celebrating individuals who have made a significant contribution, to the promotion of either electronics or information technology and in the dissemination of the understanding of electronics and information technology to young people, or adults.

Mensforth Manufacturing Gold Medal

The Mensforth Manufacturing Gold Medal is awarded to candidates who have made major and distinguished contributions in the manufacturing sector, whether the advancement of manufacturing engineering technology or manufacturing management.

J J Thomson Medal for Electronics

The J J Thomson Medal is awarded to candidates who have made major and distinguished contributions in electronics.

IET Achievement Medals

Up to six IET Achievement Medals are awarded to individuals who have made major and distinguished contributions in the various sectors of engineering, technology or applied science. The judging panel will look for outstanding and sustained excellence in one or more activities, for example, research and development, innovation, design, manufacturing, technical management, promotion of engineering and technology.

 

IET Achievement Awards for Young Professionals

Sir Henry Royce Award

Awarded to an outstanding young engineering/IT professional who has excelled in the workplace within the last three years of their work in industry or for the profession.  

Mike Sargeant Award

Awarded to a young engineering or IT professional who is judged to have made the most significant progress in their career over more than three years.

Paul Fletcher Award

Awarded to an IET young professional volunteer for outstanding achievement in contributing to the activities of the IET.

The IET Achievement Awards are open for nominations until 30 May. More information about how to enter can be found here: www.theiet.org/achievement.

Nesta quiz reveals attitudes on innovation and technological change

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Nesta has published research into Britain's attitudes on innovation and technological change, categorising respondents of its quiz into five personas.

 

The Innovation Population quiz revealed the differences in attitudes between men and women and affluent and less affluent people.

 

One in five were categorised as "Futurists", who liked change, new gadgets and products for their own sake. This small group was identified as being more likely to be affluent.

 

A larger group was the "Realists" who said they see the value in new ways of doing things, however they are concerned with the change of pace. Concerns included the increased speed of consumerism and technology making people antisocial. The group strongly supported innovation where it promotes better health, wellbeing or quality of life.  

 

The quiz revealed that one in six people, mostly young women on lower incomes, felt innovation offered them little benefits but only new threats.

 

The research categorised the respondents into the following areas:

 

Innovation Futurists:  This group are engaged in the innovation debate and see the benefits of change in all aspects of life. They take a long-view on their own lives and the wider world and tend to view controversial innovations such as nuclear or GM foods more favourably than others. This group makes up 19% of the UK population, are typically male, and affluent.

 

Innovation Romantics: This group view new gadgets and technology as exciting and interesting but tend not to engage with innovation in the long term. They place great value and tend to approve of most innovation they come into contact with or hear about. However they aren't long-term planners and aren't concerned about the future. 12% of population, typically older and typically less affluent.

 

Innovation Creatives: Are typically younger than average, and display high levels of creativity and have a social perspective on life. They are curious and interested in new ideas especially those that demonstrate creativity and solve practical problems, but don't see innovation as a single concept. This group are the least cautious and often recommend new products to their peers. Make up 19% of the population and has broadly equal ratio male to female.

 

Innovation Realists: Appreciate innovation but aren't excited about it per se placing greater importance on ethics and rights than new ideas. They see the need to keep pace with change and see value of change in areas like health, transport and education. Their most pressing concerns are on the impact of technology on society: privacy, desocialisation and the perception that lifestyles are becoming increasingly disposable. Our biggest group at 34% of the population, more likely to be female, and typically affluent.

 

Innovation Sceptics: Are concerned about the pace of change in society. They are cautious and practical, placing low value on new ideas until they are confident they have a practical value.They often feel a sense of powerlessness and a feeling of being left behind, worrying about the impacts of change on job security and how society adapts to change overall. This group makes up 16% of the population, are typically female, young and less affluent.

 

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