Survival Skills of the Future
High Wycombe MP Steve Baker visits Allied Worldwide to talk about apprenticeships in IT and bridging the IT skills gap.
The IT skills gap is a huge problem for the UK IT industry. Steps are being made to bridge the gap, but is enough being done? In reference to George Osborne’s 2014 budget, dedicated to ‘makers, doers, and savers’ Vince Cable spoke enthusiastically about prospects for degree level apprenticeships, saying that the expanding range of high quality apprenticeships now available ‘put universities and vocational training on the same footing’. Cable states that it could well be, ‘the new norm that young people either choose to go to university or begin an apprenticeship.’ This is great news for the IT industry as skills based apprenticeships are widely considered to be the answer to the burgeoning IT skills gap in this country.
Allied worldwide, the only UK-owned Global ITO Company, offer an apprentice scheme that allows young people to develop the skills they need and to also work their way up the company if they desire. Steve Baker, local MP for High Wycombe visited Allied’s offices on Friday to meet the team, find out more about what they’ve been doing, and to talk about bridging the gap in IT skills.
Baker prides himself on supporting local businesses here in Wycombe and having previously been a software engineer himself he can identify with the problems caused by the gap in IT skills, ‘It was always hard to recruit the right people, the first place that I worked was a start-up and you just couldn’t afford to have people without the correct skills for the job.’
However, IT skills are not just imperative to the future of our IT industries, they are a key component in our futures full stop. As Baker point out, ‘The most astonishing transformation has taken place since I was a child, since devices like the zx81, computers are used for everything now. Unless there was some kind of cataclysm we are always going to need computers. With the current rate of advance in software and in hardware, to have IT skills is to equip yourself for the future.’
A key issue raised by Waqaas, one of the newest apprentices at Allied, was that there was not much engagement or information regarding a future in IT at school level. Steve Baker commented on this:
‘It ought to be said in school that people should have good quality IT skills, and that doesn’t just mean using Microsoft products, as good as Microsoft products are. That means understanding how a computer works to the point that you have a chance to actually programme something.’
In the most recent changes to the curriculum Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is being replaced with Computing. Children as young as young as five will be taught how to write and test simple programmes, internet safety (currently only taught from ages eleven to sixteen) will now be covered in primary schools. This is a welcome change as far as IT skills are concerned. We need to engage young people with IT from an early age. Baker elaborated on the changes: ‘I’m delighted that young people are going to be taught to code, however it’s not enough for people to just know about the syntax of programming languages, they’ve also got to have a good problem solving mind.’
The basis of a good problem solving mind can be taught in schools but can be argued to come primarily from on-the-job experience. As Baker pointed out, ‘How do you teach someone to solve problems quickly? Do you sit them down in a classroom and teach them theory or do get them to actually start doing?’ Learning through practical experience seems to have been undervalued in the education of recent graduates, with a high focus on getting into University and acquiring an academic degree. Of course, there are still many jobs which require an academic skill set but there are also many more that require practical skills learned through experience and training.
On meeting with the apprentices at Allied Worldwide, Baker was pleased to see that they were getting the most out of their time at Allied. ‘They really know what they’re talking about when it comes to business here.’ said ne apprentice at Allied, Waqaas, when Baker questioned him on his experience so far, ‘It’s great to be able to absorb what they’re doing here and gain invaluable experience for my future. Meeting CIO Jos Creese last week was an exciting moment; he gave me some great tips about the industry and even connected with me on Linked In.’
Allied’s Managing Director Meg Fisher spoke to Baker about the opportunities on offer for today’s young people, ‘Unfortunately there just aren’t enough companies giving opportunities like this. What we’re doing here is just the beginning; we all need to be doing more.’ There was much discussion, smiles and shaking of hands as Baker met the rest of the team. He remarked on the great atmosphere at Allied and joked about where all the smiles are coming from.
Allied is a great environment for young people to acquire the skills that they need in IT, but they can only do so much. More needs to be done to offer these opportunities and to engage young people at school level. Getting children and young adults excited about technology as part of a future career is more important now than ever before and the recent curriculum changes will hopefully help to do that. We’ve certainly made a good start, but there is a long way to go yet before the bridge is complete. Degree level apprenticeships are certainly paving the way for things to come, let’s hope that they continue to expand and gain the recognition that they deserve.
For any questions or to get involved please connect with us via Twitter @AlliedWorldwide
Katherine Fawcett Hudson