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Interview: Progress tackling the skills issue

Nick Booth catches up with Mark Armstrong, managing director and vice president, EMEA & APJ at Progress, to talk about what the software player is doing to ease the skills problem

Skills is an issue that is dominating the technology dicussion at the moment. Customers are still relying on the channel to plug the gaps they have and that show no sign of changing. Mark Armstrong, managing director and vice president, EMEA & APJ at Progress, is part of a company that is anxious to popularise development and raise the level of skills.

If the IT industry rewards ‘solutions providers’ why hasn’t anyone solved the skills gap problem yet? It’s been going for 20 years!
It depends upon what you read into the phrase skills gap. Is it a supply and demand issue? Or are we saying instead that we have the talent available but they don’t have the right languages or have the right skills. Looking at both points, if we have jobs and there is demand,  but we don’t have the resources in the market, then we should look to act more holistically: from education to apprenticeship, from degree courses to evening classes.  

We should also look to business to beef up the number of internships, apprenticeship places and their own academies. If the issue is not supply but having the right skills, then businesses should take more responsibility to solve this through tighter integration with academia and developing their own academies.
Training and investing in the skills you need is essential, especially as these become more diverse with the need for data scientists, development for machine and IoT. Alongside this, companies should also embrace technologies that make this easier, such as taking a JS developer and showing them how to write code for any device.
Why do you think previous attempts to engage more people have failed?
I don’t think it’s failed, it’s a combination of the industry not being serious about investment and making places available. Another problem is that universities, to put it frankly, are out of pace with the real work of business.
What we need is easy access to courses on development languages and tools versus three year expensive courses on generic IT. Let’s teach people to use business language skills such as HTML and JavaScript; this is where the demand and the gaps are.
What would your plan be?
Develop academies. We started something small last year and so far we have trained over 100 people on a language, which is a specialised Advanced business language (ABL) but where we know there is a demand.  We have done this by charging a minimal fee to companies for an intense three week course, with reviews and self-paced learning to support afterwards. We have just launched a new service of remote class room training. The trainer is on video in real time and we can provide this to anyone anywhere in the world. Our academies, the WBT and the ILT (remote) are driving new developers and filling that ‘gap’.”
What type of people do we need to attract? How should we change the way we beckon them in to the industry?
Develop courses and apprenticeships for developers. Whilst business reverts to type and starts with minimum qualification of the degree educated, I would bypass the three years of unnecessary education and go straight to school leavers. A one to two year apprenticeship in development will give you a skill for life, in an industry with a purported skills gap and you get paid for doing it. By the time the graduate leaves university, you will have three years of  experience on them. It needs business, local colleges and the government to drive a scheme to support this to make it attractive for all involved.

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