While children are off enjoying their summer holidays, the last thing they want to hear is about next term. But in a few weeks, the school year they return to in September will be one of the most important for the future of IT in the UK.
The much-heralded new computing curriculum will be taught for the first time, with hopes that its greater relevance to the modern digital world will lead to more school leavers’ choosing a career in IT over the next 10 years.
Meanwhile, the shortage of skills that new school course is intended to tackle is only becoming more pressing.
The European Commission warned last month that 900,000 IT jobs need to be filled by 2020 across the European Union. The Labour-commissioned Digital Skills Taskforce, led by former Tomorrow’s World presenter Maggie Philbin, published its report last month too, citing research that found 745,000 more workers with digital skills will be needed by 2017 in the UK alone.
But Philbin’s report also highlighted the lack of funds available to make the new course work. Currently, the government has offered just £3.5m to support the curriculum – equating to just £175 per school. Philbin called for a further £20m to be invested by 2020. There is a clear risk that not enough teachers are equipped to deliver the computing curriculum successfully.
Our best hope is that the increasingly widespread acknowledgement of the UK needing more and better digital skills at all levels has enough momentum to be sustained, delivering real results.
Over the past 10 years, we have seen too many failed initiatives. There has rarely been any shortage of intent, but rarely enough funding, resources or government commitment.
The next five years are a one-off opportunity to develop the UK’s digital skills base and implement measures that will stick in the long term. If, by 2020, we have failed to embed technology skills into education, training, government policy and corporate life, it will be too late. The focal points of the global digital economy will have gone elsewhere.
Everyone in IT carries a responsibility to make this work, from encouraging your own children to study computing, to being a role model for the next generation. Shout louder about the great opportunities from working in technology, and ensure we can build the digital economy the UK sorely needs.
Read more about the new computing curriculum: