Crossing The Digital Skills Gap

The lack of computing skills has been a topic I’ve covered a number of times, with the skills shortage holding back developments in both data science and AI.  The issue was nicely encapsulated in recent news that there were more vacancies for IT-related jobs than people looking for them in the United States.

A number of attempts have been made to close this gap, including projects by both Google and NVIDIA that I’ve covered before.  Putting their hat into the ring are open source giant Red Hat, who have recently teamed up with independent school Lord Wandsworth College and the University of Surrey to produce the Open Schools Coding Competition, which the consortium hope will inspire the next generation of coders.

The competition is in its second year and has 10 schools competing.  Teams are allowed to use any visual programming environment to create a gaming app that will help a charity of their choice.  Not only does the competition aim to help students learn coding skills, but also how those skills can be put to a socially worthwhile cause.

“With the Open Schools Coding Competition we aim to help pupils discover that there are exciting, creative and varied career path options in computer science. It is uplifting hearing from last year’s competition finalists who talked about the fun they had working in a team; some were coding their first ever app and were inspired to do more; others commented how much they appreciated meeting other teams and sharing ideas. Ultimately, they are learning that with some basic coding skills, accessible open tools, and the power of collaboration, their generation can together make a positive impact far beyond what would be possible as an individual,” Red Hat say.

The Institute of Coding

Another British project aiming to provide the skills required to fill the estimated 1.2 million digital jobs set to be created in the UK by 2022 is the recently launched Institute of Coding (IoC).  The £20 million project consists of a consortium of 60 leading universities and corporations who between them hope to reduce the disconnect between the skills needed by industry and those produced by higher education.

The project is part of the government’s industrial strategy and especially aims to attract people who have been traditionally under-represented in the tech sector to consider digital careers.  The digital skills gap has been identified as a major source of weakness by the government, and the IoC intends to work alongside traditional universities and more modern education providers, such as MOOC network FutureLearn, to deliver a range of industry-accredited courses that incorporate practical as well as theoretical skills.

“I think the introduction of cutting-edge subjects is paramount. We must make sure we are teaching people skills in the latest fields, such as AI, machine learning and other innovations over the horizon,” IoC director Dr Rachid Hourizi says.

At the moment, the project is largely one of intent rather than concrete action, so it is one to follow with interest rather than get excited about immediate impact.  There is no doubting the urgent need to help people to gain the digital skills they need in a time and cost efficient manner.  Whether any of the projects outlined above will fulfil that need remains to be seen, but both are worth keeping an eye on.

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