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How education reform promises could plug tech skills gap

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will support lifelong learning, offering people an opportunity to retrain

The government has introduced the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which aims to help people reskill and take on training and apprenticeships to help them develop new careers.

The new education bill offers a way for individuals to upskill through lifelong learning to support those who are looking to change their careers. It offers the IT sector an opportunity to start training people to meet demand for IT expertise and fill the gap in technology skills that has been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Education secretary Gavin Williamsom said: “The reforms outlined in the bill will help to create more routes into skilled employment in sectors the economy needs, such as engineering, digital, clean energy and manufacturing, so more people can secure well-paid jobs in their local areas, levelling up the nation and supporting communities to thrive.”

Retraining is key to helping businesses fill the skills gap in IT. James Frost, chief marketing officer at QA Training, said: “On the employer’s side, there was already a skills gap. The pandemic has exacerbated this, because organisations have been forced to speed up their digital transformation programmes.”

Many people have had their careers impacted by the pandemic, with people across various sectors having their salaries subsidised by the government’s furlough scheme. But as this winds down, organisations planning a route to post-pandemic economic recovery may not automatically rehire everyone who has been on furlough. “Sadly, many people may find their jobs don’t exist,” said Frost.

He welcomed the focus on lifelong learning and said it enables such people to draw on funds to develop the right skills to make them employable. “The trick is for people to have the confidence that they can do it,” he said. “We have lots of examples of people who have made mid-career changes to being on a technology pathway.”

Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer at FDM, said: “Every business is a tech business. The requirement for people with digital skills is expanding all the time.”

Flavell sees tech skills as “life skills”, adding: “We have to do a lot of things online that we didn’t have to do before. We need life skills in tech such as Zoom and Teams meetings.”

FDM provides IT consultants to businesses. People are taken on board and trained in a programme that, depending on the expertise required, can take between eight and 16 weeks. They are then hired out to work for FDM’s clients. Flavell said the company provides training in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA), programming and business analytics.

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Flavell also chairs the Institute of Coding (IoC) Industry Advisory Board, a national consortium of employers, educators and outreach organisations working on upskilling and delivering advanced digital skills. “There is huge competition for talent,” she said. “Where do you get the training?”

At FDM, the number of job applications has returned to 2019 levels, she said. Although the company has offices in Brighton, Glasgow, Leeds and London, the pandemic has shown the power of remote learning and working, said Flavell. “There is no need to relocate. Training at home and the chances are you’ll be placed as a consultant working remotely. It has never been a better time from a social inclusion perspective.”

The government has said many of the skills that employers are demanding require intermediate or higher technical qualifications – but only 4% of young people achieve a qualification at higher technical level by the age of 25, compared with the 33% who get a degree or above. There is also evidence that these qualifications can lead to jobs with higher wages than degree holders can achieve.

Aude Barral, CCO and co-founder of developer recruitment platform CodinGame, said: “There are tremendous opportunities to have a career in IT, and particularly programming, with the digital transformation that is happening globally. 

“Right now, the most in-demand programming languages are Javascript, Java and Python – having knowledge of one or more of these languages will lead to more job opportunities and higher salary growth.

“And you don’t have to go down the typical graduate route to learn these languages and have a career in programming – one-third of those developers on our platform are self-taught.”

But although basic competency in these languages can be learnt in months, people wanting to climb the career ladder and pay scale require a commitment to continuous self-learning, said Barral.

In terms of a typical entry-level salary, software developers can expect to earn between £30,000 and £45,000 depending on where the employer is located, said Barral. “It’s worth bearing in mind that career progression doesn’t just depend on technical expertise, though – it’s also important that a programmer has the capacity to solve problems, work as a team player, as well as showing that commitment for self-development.”

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