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Tech has ‘disconnect’ between the skills students are taught and the abilities firms need

Many tech graduates face unemployment because their skills do not meet employers’ requirements, say experts at Change Catalyst’s London Tech Inclusion event

There is a “disconnect” between the technology industry and education providers, according to a panel of experts.

Representatives of the technology and education sectors claimed at Change Catalyst’s London Tech Inclusion event that the industry is not communicating properly what it needs from graduates, leaving many out of a job as the skills gap looms.

Alex Bailey, B2B marketing specialist at Maker’s Academy, said barriers that arise during the hiring process, such as employers requiring particular programming languages, a degree in a specialised subject or a certain amount of experience, are “excluding” talented people from the industry.

Bailey said firms need to “speak to someone who knows how to get rid of those unconscious biases in the tech recruitment process”.

IT graduates often face high levels of unemployment despite firms being on the lookout for technology graduates to fill skills gaps.

Bailey said computer science graduates are becoming “very unemployable”, perhaps because of the focus on theory during their computer science education, leaving out some other skills required in tech roles.

“After six months [of leaving university], they are the highest unemployed group out of any other degree,” said Bailey. “There is a huge disconnect there.”

This is despite graduates performing increasingly well, said Safia Barikzai, associate professor at London South Bank University.

“The attainment gap is narrowing for us, and they are getting better qualifications, yet they cannot get into the graduate job market. Why?” she said.

“You have computer science graduates graduating, and you have an industry that wants them, but they can’t be employed. There is something missing – there is a mismatch.”

One of the complaints voiced by employers about recent IT graduates is that they do not have the soft skills needed to enter the workplace. These can include presentation skills, office etiquette, teamwork and communications skills.

Not only are university courses not designed to teach students the soft skills demanded in the workplace, but Barikzai said that in some cases, the jobs that need filling are not suitable for graduates because of barriers such as the pressure to have relevant work experience.

“The job is not designed to get that graduate into that position, so firstly we’ve got to look at job design, and maybe design jobs that will get these graduates into employment,” she said.

Talent pipeline

The technology talent pipeline is decidedly leaky, particularly when it comes to diverse candidates who choose to leave tech education at various levels of the pipeline, said Barikzai.

Even if a diverse candidate chooses to pursue technology education, they quite often drop out of the industry once they reach the workplace.

As well as building an inclusive workplace culture to retain diverse candidates, more needs to be done early on in the pipeline to ensure young people get the mix of skills needed to take up these jobs in the first place, said Barikzai.

Many think the curriculum does not address the tech industry’s needs and needs to be adapted, despite the UK government introducing a new curriculum in 2014 with the aim of teaching young people more digital skills.

Barikzai said the curriculum should be made “more inclusive” by ensuring firms in the technology industry work with children from a variety of backgrounds, including migrants or refugees, and encourage them into the sector. This might lead them to create technology that will meet the needs of people like them in the future, she added.

Grabbing children’s attention at a young age could also help them to develop an understanding of what challenges exist in the industry now, but also what might exist in the not-too-distant future and what skills are needed to take on these challenges, said Barikzai.

This would also help to make young people aware of industry role models, which makes it important to ensure a mix of people visit schools to help children understand more about the industry, she said.

But this can often mean the same companies visiting the same schools and pitching technology careers to children who may already be interested in technology, or look just like those already working for tech firms.

Read more about technology talent

  • Fujitsu’s Duncan Tait says the skills gap and the increased need for digital workers will cause mass competition over recruitment in the future.
  • Digital minister Matt Hancock told a diversity and inclusion event that the technology industry should look to use under-represented groups to fill tech talent gaps.

Marieme Jamme, CEO and co-founder of iamtheCODE, said that to prevent diversity initiatives “talking to the same people” and “recycling the same content” , more “unusual” people should be able to contribute, helping to create a more diverse and inclusive industry.

“When we talk about inclusion, we need to talk about unusual people – people we don’t think about,” said Jamme. “The tech industry in the UK is not inclusive – that is the truth. If we start putting more empathy, more compassion and more kindness into the industry, we will begin to see the results.”

But according to Mark Martin, teacher at UKBlackTech, younger people are “not waiting” around for others to initiate change. Where they cannot see a place in the pipeline for them to join the sector, they will take matters into their own hands and build an app or startup for themselves, he said.

“We are in a day and age now where millennials are thinking outside of the box – they are creatives,” said Martin.

But a focus on teaching skills for jobs that have not yet been created is still an issue very much on the minds of tech experts, said Martin, and any initiatives designed to increase the tech skills base need to “cook” and “simmer” before they can turn out talent.

Rashada Harry, founder of Your Future, Your Ambition, said “flash in the pan” tactics would not work, and firms need to spend more time teaching new recruits the specific skills needed for vacant roles, including softer skills that many firms complain graduates do not have.

This includes building an inclusive environment where new recruits feel able to learn and make mistakes, and where all employees feel able to be themselves, said Harry. In many cases, young people do not feel supported or confident when leaving university and joining large organisations, she added.

“Where young people don’t feel like they have a seat at the table, they’re creating their own office,” said Harry. “They are not necessarily looking to do that in a corporate. If corporates are really interested in getting that great talent into their organisation, they have to do things differently and I think that’s the challenge.”

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