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In 2015 the shortage of skilled workers in the IT industry played on everyone’s minds, and the year saw the government announce several initiatives to encourage more people to learn science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) skills – as well as encourage the IT industry to take on and train more apprentices.
The year kicked off with 53% of the UK’s top 100 employers revealing plans to recruit for graduate IT roles in 2015.
The High Fliers study of the 2015 graduate market found that, despite predictions that IT and telecommunications companies would see no change in their number vacancies, the number of available IT jobs remained high.
At the 2015 education event Bett, education secretary Nicky Morgan unveiled many technology education projects, including £3.5m of funding to further help schools deploy the new computing curriculum.
A theme across the year was that teachers felt they had not been properly trained to deliver the computing curriculum, which was announced in 2013. In many cases they felt their students had better technology skills than them.
Morgan said funding was important as most jobs in the future will be tech-related, and schools should be able to connect with technology companies to better assist teachers in delivering the curriculum.
A House of Lords Digital Skills Committee report suggested in early 2015 that 35% of UK jobs will be at risk of being automated over the next 20 years, making the need for improved digital skills more urgent.
The report stated there was a lack of coordination between the initiatives in place to tackle the digital skills gap, and called for a single digital agenda under one cabinet minister.
The committee also suggested making digital literacy a core subject at school, alongside English and maths.
In early 2015, digital technology sector roles were added to the Shortage Occupation List in the UK alongside occupations requiring high emotional intelligence or technical skills, such as health sector and energy industry workers.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended job titles such as product manager, data scientist, senior developer and cyber security specialist be added to the list, and suggested the government ease regulations on hiring non-European staff in these roles.
As a result, UK employers should find it easier to recruit international graduates with technology talent to fill empty roles.
During National Apprenticeship Week in March 2015, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg urged young people to take advantage of the benefits offered by apprenticeships.
Clegg stated individuals hoping for a good career, or businesses hoping to recruit the best talent, should consider apprenticeships.
The BCS used National Apprenticeship Week as an opportunity to close the IT skills gap, and called on employers to use the event as a springboard for supporting apprenticeship schemes, aiming to train young people for technology jobs.
National Apprentice Week in March 2015 also saw Tech Partnership ask businesses to consider whether they can survive without taking on apprentices.
Tech partnership said businesses need to ask themselves not whether they could afford to take on an apprentice – but whether they could afford not to.
Phil Smith, chairman of Tech Partnership, said that not only are technology apprenticeships the best place for young people to start their career, but they also give companies the opportunity to find young people to train for the particular specialisms and skills the firms need.
Following the 2015 election, chancellor George Osborne’s 2015 Budget announced the launch of loans of up to £25,000 for postgraduate PhD and research-led masters courses, and measures to support scientific research and jobs in science and innovation.
A further £4m was also announced in the Budget to continue matching fund support for training and development in film, television, visual effects, video games and animation for a further two years.
Osborne announced these were part of plans to develop a “more highly skilled UK labour market”.
Throughout 2015, many government departments and officials admitted a lack of IT skills acted as a barrier for IT projects in government.
Many departments implemented initiatives to ensure they were taking on people with the skills they needed, and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) shared its experiencing and launched its first 15 apprenticeships under the government-led Tech Industry Gold Apprenticeship scheme.
The department offered four-year apprenticeships to students interested in training as software developers and studying at the same time as earning a wage to contribute towards closing the UK’s IT skills gap.
Across 2015 many firms, individuals and government initiatives were announced with the aim of closing the IT skills gap in the UK.
But industry network TechUK warned the industry that this fragmented approach to solving the crisis may do more harm than good, and suggested collaboration between initiatives and the government would be more beneficial.
As the year drew to a close, concern shifted towards diversity among apprentices. The London Assembly Economy Committee urged mayor of London Mayor Boris Johnson to further champion women in IT and redesign apprenticeships to improve skills and diversity.
The report focused in part on the technology sector in London, saying the capital's technology sector faced a range of challenges, including a digital skills shortage and a lack of diversity.
According to the London Assembly Economy Committee’s findings, many young Londoners are struggling to take advantage of the abundance of technology jobs in the capital, and urged the Mayor to use his £5m Digital Talent Programme to ensure young people in the capital are learning digital skills.