Computing message not forwarded

5th April 2013 at 01:00
Industry is booming but students are not being made aware of facts, expert says

One part of the Scottish jobs market - computing - is booming, but schools are failing to pass the message on to young people.

Employers are desperate for computing graduates, Bill Buchanan, professor of computing at Edinburgh Napier University, told a major ICT conference, Learning Through Technology 2013, in Glasgow last week.

"The market is red hot," Professor Buchanan said. "My students don't have to try very hard to get a job - they walk into jobs straight away."

Companies did not come looking for one or two graduates - they were more likely to want 10, he said.

Jeremy Scott, principal teacher of computing at George Heriot's School in Edinburgh, said the Scottish IT industry was worth pound;3.4 billion but was "grappling with a skills shortage".

Mr Scott, who has led a Royal Society of EdinburghBritish Computing Society project to advance computing science through Curriculum for Excellence, said that at a "conservative estimate", 45,000 recruits were needed over the next five years. There were great opportunities for women, who accounted for only one in five IT professionals, he said.

But there had been a 30 per cent decline in the numbers taking university computing qualifications over 10 years, Mr Scott said. And 10 per cent of secondary schools now employ no computing teachers, he added.

As industry-based computing jobs became more lucrative, it was even harder to coax graduates into teaching.

Nevertheless, Curriculum for Excellence was a "shot in the arm" for computing; the Scottish government was taking computing seriously; and there were early signs of growing numbers being drawn to the subject, he said.

Professor Buchanan told delegates that companies in Livingston and East Kilbride struggled to find graduates; young people preferred to work where commuting amounted to little more than "falling out of bed".

"There are so many jobs - there are so many things that you can go into," he added. The finance industry was "very vibrant", contrary to popular perception. And security, web development, architecture and "big data" also provided opportunities, he added. However, schools did not appear to know the extent of these opportunities.

"There's maybe a mismatch between what we teach kids at school and what we teach them at university, and the jobs they go on to," Professor Buchanan added.

University computing departments like his would be delighted to forge links with schools. "Some schools are very good at knocking on your door," he said, but these tended to be "the fee-paying variety".

Learning Through Technology was organised by Holyrood Events

Key figures

pound;3.4 billion - the value of the Scottish IT industry.

30% - the decline over 10 years in take-up of university computing qualifications.

10% - secondaries which employ no computing science teachers.

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