The challenges and solutions of the UK's tech skills gap

GUEST BLOG: In this contributed post Claudia Harris, the new chair of software bootcamp Makers, discusses the challenges and solutions to the UK’s tech skills gap – could encouraging more women into the tech industry be the answer?

The UK’s digital skills crisis is well documented. There are 600,000 digital vacancies at any one time at an estimated annual cost to the UK economy of £63bn. A key feature is the role of gender. Only 17% of employees in the UK technology sector are women.

Solving this challenge requires much better engagement in our education system. Take up of computer science and maths A-levels has been increasing in recent years. Maths is now the most popular A-level. However a gender gap persists. Fewer than one tenth of A-level computer science students in the UK are female, and men are almost twice as likely to take Maths.

For young women, interest in certain subjects drops dramatically at the age of 13. Women look up, can’t see people like them in techy roles, and don’t think it’s for them. We know that role models are one route to solving this problem. The Careers & Enterprise Company, which I lead, works to link schools to employers to help provide this inspiration.

Given its urgency however, the digital gap also needs to be addressed by mid-career switchers. This is something that Makers looks to address with its software coding bootcamp.

The programme puts Makers through a 16-week bootcamp focused on learning to problem solve in coding. This equips them with the tools to continue to be confident learners even once they have left be bootcamp. Employers from the Financial Times to Deloitte have recognised the power of this model, using it to recruit talent. Conversely, for the individuals involved the experience is life changing.

Makers is focused on inclusion – 35% of its software engineers are women, twice the national average. It attributes its success in attracting women to its inclusive learning environment and to its application criteria. It does not ask for A-levels in its recruitment. Its focus is on problem solving and mindset. The positive learning experience of female Makers then leads to word of mouth referrals.

As well as addressing the digital skills gap, these female coders will become the very role models who can go back into schools and show younger women what is possible.

The bootcamp model holds some vital clues on how to build the digital skills that are in such great demand, and shows that it is possible to do this while beating the averages on gender. It is a model that has the potential to benefit both the economy and our society.

 

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