This week A-Level students received their results, with many of them now working out next steps. In the UK, top grades for A-level results have fallen since last year, with 36.4% of all grades marked at A* or A, to try and tackle rising grade inflation over the last two years.
A near-record high number of students have been offered a university or college place too, and the first T-level grades were revealed for those taking new technical qualifications, with an overall pass rate of 92%.
But are school leavers fully prepared for the worlds of higher education and work that awaits them? UK tech job vacancies have grown by 191% between 2020-2021 – and are continuing to grow, according to BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT. But recruitment remains difficult, owing to an ongoing shortage of skilled workers.
It seems there’s a disconnect between what students learn in school and real-world job opportunities. Let’s discuss how industry leaders and educators can help bridge that gap.
Tackling the tech skills shortage
It’s undeniable that the skills shortage in the UK hinges on getting employees ready to manage an ever-expanding digital economy – and developing the next generation forms a huge part of this. According to Callum Adamson, CEO at Distributed, “the government’s recent digital skills strategy recognises the important role that technology will play in our future as a country. With that in mind, it’s vital that provisions are made for all students to become tech-literate and prepared for the increasingly digital world of work.”
This is impacting multiple industries too – with cybersecurity and software development up there. According to Paul Anderson, VP UK & Ireland, Fortinet, “Within technology, there is a significant skills shortage in cybersecurity, and many organisations struggle to recruit new talent. In fact, according to 2022 Fortinet Global Research Report on Cybersecurity Skills Gap, seven out of 10 leaders see the recruitment of women and new graduates as a top hiring hurdle.”
Indeed, this lack of awareness of the jobs in demand is having a big impact for young people. As Ed Hoppitt, Senior Director, Apps and Cloud Platforms at VMware Tanzu comments, “Many may not be aware of the sheer range of jobs available to them in the technology industry, despite this being where many of the jobs will lie in future. As a result, there’s a clear responsibility for the technology industry to provide the right routes for young people to get the digital skills they need thrive in today’s economy.”
Bolstering alternative routes into tech
As Fortinet’s Paul Anderson says, if the issue is that “most young people don’t view cybersecurity as an option or consider it as a career,” as is the case with lots of jobs in tech, then the next step for tech business leaders will be to open up routes to a wider pool of talent – particularly for young people.
Stuart Munton, Chief for Delivery at AND Digital comments on the pressure of achieving the right qualifications in secondary school education, when this may not offer opportunities to many who would in fact, do well in tech.
“While A-Level results day is a celebration for many, for others it can feel deflating and daunting – as continued pressure is put on grades to determine future career paths. Across society, whether that’s individuals, educational institutions or businesses, we must instead recognise the value and opportunities of possessing interpersonal skills, such as teamwork, communication and pragmatic problem-solving.
“The assumption still exists that a career in tech requires deep technical skills or qualifications. This means students that aren’t drawn early in their lives to these areas, for example the ones who code for fun in their spare time, are often deemed ‘not technical’ at school. This assumption is dangerous – as it can end up informing interests, A-Levels, higher education choices and, in the future, career choices.
Similarly, Sean Farrington, EVP EMEA at Pluralsight argues that to build a better pipeline of tech talent, there need to be other routes than just university available to students.
“Alongside university degrees, we should also consider apprenticeships, tech bootcamps and online digital learning as valid pathways into the industry. And learning mustn’t stop once the next generation of talent is embedded into the workforce. Employers must provide opportunities for employees to learn in-demand skills ‘on the go’, with continuous access to training and development.”
Opening up more diversity in the industry
The benefits of widening access into technology for young people will be wide-ranging. Not only will this help to fill any necessary gaps, but also to increase diversity in tech too. As VMware Tanzu’s Ed Hoppitt points out, “Software, apps and AI are only as good as the teams that put them together – and the next generation of developers needs to be as diverse as possible, to capture the needs of our diverse society too. Improving the talent pipeline into software and modern apps development needs to come from grassroots engagement – and the tech industry has a clear role to play here.”
Andy Whitehurst, UK CTO at Sopra Steria agrees. “We must also consider the importance of diverse thinking in creating the next generation of technology offers. A select few usually create technology, but young people of diverse and minority backgrounds must be represented in the user research, development and operational phases to maximise future technology adoption and lifespan. By encouraging role models of all backgrounds into critical technology roles, businesses can truly make inroads in inspiring the next generation of workers to pursue technology careers.”
To avoid hinging too much on qualifications and results, Stuart Munton at AND Digital comments that universities and companies should be looking for a range of skills and potential in young people, “Educational institutions must encourage students to seek out careers beyond the ‘obvious’ choice and businesses must open their doors to those that are the right fit from a cultural, creativity and empathy perspective. They may not have all the technical skills at their fingertips, but these can be learned on the job on a need-to-know basis.
“Opening the pool of students applying for tech courses, and ultimately for tech careers, will lead to a more diverse, innovative and creative industry – and it is these un-tapped creative minds that will advance the future of work as much as those with deep technical knowledge”
Bringing tech into the curriculum
Finally, there’s work to be done at an even earlier stage to get more young people feeling excited and suited to technology careers. Andy Whitehurst at Sopra Steria points out the current national curriculum does not go far enough. “Technology jobs are projected to grow 13% by 2030, yet this is not sufficiently reflected in the national curriculum, or the classroom. With technology becoming an essential part of our lives, we must provide a pathway for the younger generations to build and harness the technologies of the future.”
Similarly, Distributed’s Callum Adamson agrees: “This will no doubt require a much broader spectrum of tech-based subjects and learning options to be offered at A-level, alongside traditional courses in the sciences and humanities. Tech-oriented learning that is restricted to the slow roll out of qualifications like T-levels is not fit for purpose and stand little chance of provisioning the UK’s incredibly high demand for tech roles like software developers, and cybersecurity professionals.”
As a result, Mark Gray, Country Manager UK & Ireland, Universal Robots, also argues that “To ensure students of all ages and backgrounds have access to the necessarily learning resources, the government must provide free resources to all schools. These resources are crucial for educators to provide sufficient digital education. Not only will this equip the students with the required skills for the future, but it will also place the country at a competitive advantage and will benefit the economy.”
Lastly, Matt Waring, Education Channel Manager at Logitech points out that hybrid working is by no means disappearing – and in that regard, students should be prepared with the right resources from day one. “By incorporating technology such as versatile tablet cases, digital styluses, and smart AI-powered whiteboard cameras into everyday use in schools, students will be prepared to work in innovative ways, collaborate digitally with peers and feel confident with technology – all of which will be valuable skills for their future careers. The pandemic saw a rapid acceleration in technology adoption within education; and with the outcomes, impact and success we are already seeing, now is no time to slow down.”