Computing - Coding lessons may already be obsolete

27th September 2013 at 01:00
Tech industry short of business savvy, not specialised skills

The race is on around the world to improve computer literacy and to push students to learn coding. But a major report on the IT industry has concluded that coding alone will not fill the skills gap that is leaving thousands of jobs empty.

The study - which surveyed major tech companies operating in the UK, including Fujitsu, IBM and Oracle - found that significant numbers of jobs will require general business skills, not technical expertise.

At the insistence of education secretary Michael Gove, computing will be compulsory from September 2015 for all students in England aged 5 to 14 in an attempt to ensure that future generations have the skills appropriate to a 21st-century workplace.

This follows similar moves by governments elsewhere in the world, keen for their young people to be taught computer programming languages to boost their chances of gaining employment.

Earlier this year, US president Barack Obama said it "made sense" that students should be required to learn programming languages in school just as they have to study modern foreign languages. Technology companies, including Google, have lamented the lack of students opting for computer science at school and university in the UK, US and Australia.

This latest report, funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and published earlier this month, predicts that 300,000 workers will be needed to fill the skills shortage in the UK's tech sector by 2023.

But Liz Hollingworth, research and policy manager at e-skills, the skills council for the IT industry, said that computing was not the only answer to the future job needs of the IT sector.

"While the research does show that there is a real need for those fundamental and deep technical skills, it is also showing that the IT industry needs those skilled workers who do not have the technical training," Ms Hollingworth said.

"The IT industry has to ensure it is not putting people off by just appealing to those with technical skills. It needs more volume (of workers) across a wider spectrum of skills."

Her comments come just weeks after figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that computing graduates were more likely to be unemployed six months after graduating than those with a degree in other subjects.

Further studies have shown that even three and a half years after leaving university, computing graduates were more likely to be unemployed.

Bob Harrison, education adviser for computer company Toshiba and chair of the Department for Education's expert group on computing, said that employers did not need coders.

While stressing that he was speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of Toshiba, Mr Harrison said that employers in the IT industry wanted more than just computer scientists.

"Problem-solving is a real skill, but if you asked employers what skills and experience they want, coding is very, very low down on the list," he said.

Is coding the new Latin? Don't miss next week's cover feature for TES' in-depth investigation.

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