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A new lesson in coding?

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In this guest blog post, Naomi Hewitt, director of HR, The NET-A-PORTER GROUP, writes about why it is time to teach tech at schools.

The founder of a new after school coding club for 10-11 year olds recently claimed that"We're teaching our kids to be secretaries rather than programmers." I can understand her concerns as they echo those of the Corporate IT Forum's Education and Skills Commission, which recently called for ICT education to be replaced with "IT in business" lessons. I do believe that more could be done in schools and universities to encourage and inspire young people in learning about technology and the essential role it plays in business today.


In the UK specifically there seems to be a disconnect between Academia and 'the real world' with many of the computer-related courses on offer bearing little relevance to the exciting technology roles available in the business world.  This may be symptomatic of a legacy of both free higher education and the pursuit of traditional liberal arts subjects, but it is certainly not helping to make the transition to the job market any smoother for young people.

As a fast growing ecommerce business, The NET-A-PORTER GROUP, whose brands include NET-A-PORTER, THE OUTNET and MR PORTER, is as much a technology as a fashion company. Recent new technology launches include the development of new shopping platforms for tablet, mobile and TV, NET-A-PORTER LIVE, an interactive shopping experience and an augmented reality shopping app. To ensure we continue to stay at the forefront of technical development we require cutting-edge tech talent and find ourselves competing fiercely for the UK's top notch developers and programmers, who are very much in demand. To address this, we recently launched an e-commerce academy, training tech-savvy graduates in vital programming skills alongside developing a commercial awareness with a view to further enhancing our in-house team, who continue to create and develop innovative ideas to benefit our business and customers.

Initiatives such as our graduate technology scheme are a direct result of the UK's broader digital skills gap. Earlier this month figures were released from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). showing that while the job market shrinks and graduate opportunities decrease, permanent IT staff placements have increased for the third consecutive month.

This reflects the fact that online and mobile are two of the fastest growing sectors - the interest in London's Silicon Roundabout, the Government's training to help "Web Fuelled" businesses and the advent of 4G promising lightning fast mobile broadband are just some of the indicators of the burgeoning potential of this market and the increasing demand for digital talent in the UK. As an example of this, our own business has grown from 0 to over 2000 employees over the last twelve years. And we're not the only ones on the lookout for digital talent. There are many companies now which have digital elements at the heart of their organisation, beyond businesses traditionally associated with business technology. 

It's also worth noting that often those who go into young, modern, digital organisations will have more opportunity to inform its direction and make their mark than they would if they worked in a traditional back office IT role. Without inspiring young people to recognise these growing opportunities we may not meet the demand for digital talent. 

That's why businesses and educational establishments need to take responsibility for showing young people that careers in technology such as web development and design can be commercially relevant, exciting and incredibly rewarding and adapt their courses appropriately.

As the cost of higher education continues to rise, so too will the expectation for concrete outputs from the education system.  Other countries are already addressing this. US colleges, for instance, have a much greater appetite for partnering with employers to tailor their academic programmes to get students 'job ready' and look to lure students based on the percentage of alumni that matriculate into jobs with Fortune 500 companies. Britain must follow suit, and fast. If that means updating some of the processes and techniques young people are learning in school and university in favour of new, more exciting and empowering digital activities then we're all for it.

Video interview: Skills upgrade

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It has been a few weeks since the last post. We have been busy at Computer Weekly working on a series of video podcasts on IT skills and training.

Simon May, previously worked in financial institutes, He has been a technical evangelist at Microsoft for a year. In this video May says that previously, there was a lot of stability in IT skills. However, things like cloud and consumerisation means that people have to upgrade their skills.

Given the state of the economy, he believes that businesses will need to reduce costs, while at the same time, grow. IT is one of the ways to achieve this, and so IT training is key.

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IT sector must speak in skills to bridge gaps in capability and boost IT workforce

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Kevin Streater is executive director for IT employer engagement at The Open University. The Open University will be contributing a series of articles for ITWorks over the coming weeks breaking down the skills requirements for making your way in the IT profession. First in the series looks how the problems the IT sector faces in plugging its skills gaps

Whatever the uncertainties around the economic climate one thing that is increasingly clear is that the fate of the IT sector will be central to the UK's economic recovery.

E-Skills UK's Technology Insights report for 2011 calculates the ICT sector to be worth £100bn to the UK economy - a figure they predict could grow by £50bn over the next decade causing employment in the industry to grow nearly five times faster than the UK average.

But as we have seen from concerns over imminent skills shortages and falling numbers of IT and computer science graduates, it is not safe to assume that we have the workforce to fill a widening job market.

The crisis in UK IT centres on the development of new professionals and the system that supports their development through to senior management. The future of the sector is being harmed by graduates who are frustrated at the standard and relevance of their personal development - and employers that are concerned that the graduates they take on lack the skills and experience to transfer their understanding of IT into the workplace.

It's a challenge that requires a brand new approach from educators, dispensing with the traditional course brochures and starting to speak in the industry language of IT skills and competency.

The fact is a lot the difficulties facing the IT sector at present come down to barriers, both perceived and real, that have cast doubt on the public's views of IT as an affordable and accessible profession with a traversable route up to well paid senior management roles.

If companies want to attract and retain the best talent coming out of university into entry-level positions (which often can't compete financially with those offered by the City and law firms), they need to demonstrate clearer career pathways supported by intuitive and strategic staff learning.

At the Open University we are looking to untangle the multitude of job roles and skills requirements which we hope will help kick start a new openness in IT and see the numbers return to an industry that desperately needs them.

Over the coming weeks The Open University will publish a series of articles aiming to introduce Computer Weekly readers to a new approach to IT education and professional development throughout their sector.

This new model is based on intensive research and industry engagement by the University, encompassing skills mapping and job profiling that together meet the capability requirements of modern business. By breaking down the business driven competencies for each role into a selection of skills elements these articles will demonstrate the change in skills demand as you work your way up the IT ladder and guide you through the education tools available to help you make this transition.

This approach will help CIOs and IT managers create a skills development path that will put in motion a conveyer belt, turning entry-level staff into the company's future senior management.

Throughout these articles we will be encouraging Computer Weekly readers to ask questions via the ITWorks hash tag #ITworksCW, the Facebook page and the comment sections under each article. These questions will be collated and the most popular ones will form the basis of final article with answers provided by The Open University's expert careers advisors.

"I can't do that" - Are you sure?

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Gary Kildare, IBM VP for Human Resources previously wrote about apprenticeships. This week he blogs about career changes.

At IBM, it is important to us that our workforce reflects the markets we serve. Leaders, who surround themselves with like-minded employees, can't compete in today's world of global business. This means we aim to recruit the best people regardless of age, gender, disability, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

It also means we take on experienced hires who may not have IT backgrounds.

For instance, one of our managing consultants has a background in teaching. He now works with our clients to embed advanced learning technologies and solutions into their business processes.

For a candidate who doesn't tick all the boxes, demonstrating transferable skills and expertise that will benefit the role they are applying for is important. Once hired, you can work to up-skill and re-skill to further your career.  

For people keen to move into the technical side of IT, you can go straight for official qualifications, but there are also many free resources available for you to gauge if a field is right for you. For instance, the IBM DeveloperWorks site offers free of charge tutorials, demonstrations and access to social networking with thousands of developers across the world.

Breaking new ground

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Last week Gary Kildare, IBM VP for Human Resources, discussed how to recruit graduates . Today's guest post looks at  the benefits of apprenticeship programmes.

More and more companies are recognising that university isn't for everyone. Apprenticeship schemes are a way for employers to tap into talent which they may otherwise overlook. Increasingly apprenticeship positions are cropping up in the services industries - including IT.

Working closely with e-Skills and the National Apprenticeship Service, we opened the IBM Apprenticeship scheme last year. Our apprentices work while attaining a recognised qualification in ICT over two years. This has proven so successful that we are expanding the programme this year.

While most applicants had just finished their A-Levels, we had older applicants as well. One of the apprentices we took on is 30. He demonstrated the seven transferable skills we look for as well as a deep level of commitment which made him an excellent candidate for us.  

In our experience, apprentices are enthusiastic and embrace a culture of learning new skills and self-motivation. Bespoke training on the job means they do it 'right' from the start. An apprenticeship can be a great choice for people who want to dive straight into the world of work while at the same time gaining access to support, training and a career path.


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