Catch them young to prevent skills shortages in the future

The UK will face severe IT skills shortages unless new education initiatives are set up and led by industry. That was the message...

The UK will face severe IT skills shortages unless new education initiatives are set up and led by industry. That was the message from BCS chief executive David Clarke following a competition which encouraged potential interest in IT among young children, writes John Kavanagh.

The national drawing competition, on the theme of "today's engineers help us work and play", attracted more than 6,000 entries from children aged five to seven.

The competition, sponsored by the BCS and 14 other engineering professional bodies, aimed to foster closer links between engineering disciplines and primary education. Children were asked to depict how engineering and IT had made an impact on their lives and contributed to both work and play. Teachers' notes sent with details of the competition to every primary school in the country underlined the creative and fun role that engineering and IT could play in everyday lives.

Clarke warned that much of the enthusiasm for IT and engineering shown by the response to the competition by these young children would not be seen through to their later years.

"Our professional membership has long extolled the sustained teaching of IT in schools in a manner that will attract children's interest and kindle long-term enthusiasm for the subject," he said.

"Today's children take IT for granted in their everyday lives, but insufficient numbers are following it through as a subject to study and achieve qualification. Girls in particular are not sufficiently responding to encouragement to enter this exciting professional field. This is disappointing, as nearly two thirds of the top 50 entrants for this competition were girls.

"This will present our country with severe IT skills shortages in the near future unless a greater number of focused, industry-driven initiatives in the education sector are undertaken."

Clarke pointed out that the BCS is taking steps to encourage women in IT careers. "In a bid to attract and nurture female interest in IT as a career, the BCS has established a women's IT group; it can provide advice and guidance to girls considering this as a career option, as well as supporting women who have already embarked on a career in IT," he said.

The competition was won by Sangwoo Kim, who attends Hampton Junior School in Middlesex. His entry illustrated a wide range of engineering developments, including computers, trains, boats, roads and sound systems. He received his prize, which included £1,000 for technology equipment for his school, from TV presenter Kate Bellingham at an award ceremony in London.

The second prize went to Cameron Howe of Warren Road Primary School in Orpington, Kent, who got a Center Parcs family break, £75, and £750 of technology equipment for his school. The third prize was won by Jac Evans of Felinfach Primary School in Lampeter, who got £50, a Tussaud's Group annual pass, and £500 towards equipment for his school.

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