Digital Industry and the Skills Gap

It appears to be a good time to aspire for a career in web development, with developer roles being the hardest to fill, at least within Manchester (Manchester Digital, 2017). The UK’s digital industry is attracting more than double the investment of its closest competitor, France, bringing in £28bn over the past five years (Tech Nation, 2017). In fact, over the same five years London has attracted more investment than Paris Berlin and Amsterdam combined (Tech Nation, 2017). However with digital businesses growing faster than non-digital businesses on average (Tech Nation, 2017), a skills gap as emerged forcing employers to inflate wages. This wage inflation is a growing concern for digital businesses, rising from 44% in 2016 to 51% in 2017 (Manchester Digital, 2017). In 2017 20% of digital businesses within Manchester reported having turned away work due to being unable to find the “right talent” (Manchester Digital, 2017). In a government digital strategy report it transpired that the skills gap costs the UK economy round “£63bn a year in lost income” (BBC News, 2017).

The issue seems deeply routed with a significant about of school IT equipment being considered ineffective. The majority of computer science teachers lack relevant qualifications of which there are already too few according to the government report which claims only 70% of teaching roles have been filled (as of 2016) (BBC News, 2017).

It’s not all doom and gloom for the skills gap however. Code bootcamps are popping up across the country in order to provide the necessary training for aspiring developers without necessarily having the high cost of a bachelor’s degree in just a few months. Triplebyte, a company dediated to finding work for software programmers conducted a study into how bootcamp graduates have faired in the industry. As it turns out programmers who studied at these bootcamps have “similar or better skills in two of the four areas it tests candidates: practical programming … and designing web systems” (Kokalitcheva, K., 2017). Triplebyte found that the education provided by bootcamps sets programmers up for careers in practical areas but lacks training in the more maths oriented roles such as algorithm programming.

One of the ways the government is attempting to reduce the skills gap is through the apprenticeship levy. The number of digital companies within Manchester recruiting apprentices has increased by around 3% in the last year up to 50.8%. Of these apprentices 80% have met the employer’s expectations (Manchester Digital, 2017), however there are concerns over the “work readiness” of some apprentices who perhaps haven’t had the basic level of training that should potentially be offered at high school and college level education.

So the question remains, how do we reduce the skills gap and increase the number of trained developers within an industry which has been consistently growing at a rapid rate? It seems clear that the level of training being provided at even the most basic levels within high schools and colleges is simply insufficient to keep up with the demands for new talented developers. Greater investment is needed in staff training and school equipment to better equip students to develop; whether that be at university level, apprenticeships or through code bootcamps. With Brexit looming ahead it’s tempting to ask what will happen to the UK’s leading role in Europe in the digital sector. Will the UK’s digital industry suffer the same fate as it’s manufacturing industry?

The government needs to be able to ensure the UK remains an attractive place to study in order to reduce the threat of Brexit on the industry as a whole. Currently 10% of talent within the North West of England is sourced from the European Union (Manchester Digital, 2017). With “fewer than 5,000 [students] a year stay[ing] on after their visa expires” (Stewart, H & Mason, R & Grierson, J., 2017) as well as government policy which may affect foreign students as part of their “crackdown” on immigration it is hard to see the skills gap shrinking any time soon.

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