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National Coding Week 2022: addressing the digital skills gap

by uma


Monday 19th September marks the start of this year’s National Coding Week – the annual volunteer-led campaign dedicated to closing the digital skills gap in the UK by encouraging the nurturing of coding skills. Addressing this skills gap is important now, more than ever, with estimates suggesting that it costs the UK economy as much as £63 billion per year in potential GDP.

This National Coding Week, four industry leaders in the technology sector reflect on their thoughts and experiences with coding, sharing insights on the importance of promoting digital literacy among youths and how we can achieve this.

Michael Cote, Senior Member of Technical Staff at VMware comments:

“This National Coding Week, I wanted to reflect on the three things I enjoy most about coding:

Firstly, figuring out what needs to be done. It may seem straight forward – something as simple as moving a button on an app around – but it entails exploring what the actual problem you’re solving is, and the best way to solve it. For example, you might think that transferring money was simple: you just make a user interface that takes the recipient’s name, bank info, and the amount. This is one way to do it but figuring out how to use QR codes to do it is much better: then you can email or message requests or do it with a click on your phone. You discover what to code by studying how people are using your software and then trying many different things to come up with new approaches.

The second part is the actual coding itself. Learning how to write the actual programming languages is fun, especially learning how the language wants you to think: how do you describe what a ‘user’ is? How do you sequence out transferring money? How do you handle any errors? And then, the act of just writing code that you *think* works and seeing it work is very satisfying. Of course, it often takes many rounds of coding and testing to get code that works.

The third part is the best reward: seeing people use your software and knowing that it’s useful. When you’re writing code you can feel isolated from, well, mostly everything. But then when you hear about or see someone using your code, you get a good thrill: something you worked on is useful!

Learning to code takes a lot of time – often years to be ‘fluent’ in it. But getting good enough to enjoy yourself and do some basics doesn’t take long. The key is to learn to love learning, imagining new ways to solve problems, and continually exploring. All that effort is worth it because it can be so enjoyable, whether in the three ways I like it, or any other ways that you discover!”

Stephen Patterson, Chief for People and Tech Evolution at AND Digital comments:

“With the UK’s digital skills gap widening, it’s no wonder the focus is on equipping people with technical skills such as coding. However, it’s important that we take time to step outside this box and look at embracing the so-called ‘softer skills’ that people can bring to the table. While coding can be taught and developed on a need-to-know basis, building skills such as a strong teamwork ethic and constructive communication help people progress in any field they decide to pursue. Businesses should be celebrating these skills too and hiring based on whether individuals align with the culture of a company – not just its technical needs.”

Sue-Ellen Wright, Managing Director Aerospace Defence and Security at Sopra Steria comments:

“Coding is one of the fastest-growing professions in the UK, with the number of developers rising by 74,000 in the past three years. Despite this, the UK technology talent shortage threatens to stifle growth in the industry.  

“National Coding Week is a time to remind ourselves about the importance of promoting digital literacy among youths. Technology is a necessity, and we need to help the younger generation learn the essentials skills to build the technology of the future. This starts at the grassroots level with education institutions being the first port of call. By introducing computer coding into the curriculum, we can teach children important transferable skills whilst developing a problem-solving mindset from an early age. 

“We must also consider the importance of improving digital inclusion. A select few usually create technology, but young people of diverse backgrounds must be represented not only in marketing materials but in the development process. Having a diverse workforce is especially important for the technology industry, which currently lacks an equal gender balance and boasts predominantly male leadership teams. Female role models are a great way to inspire the next generation and encourage them to pursue careers in technology.”  

Mikkel Vahl, Global Head of Training and Education at Universal Robots comments:

“As our society continues to transform digitally, the need for automation and robots is only increasing – and this is set to change the way entire industries operate.

“The International Federation of Robotics estimates that robots will be used by more than 50% of production operators in a decade’s time, to assist workers with tedious manual tasks including feeding machines, lifting and holding heavy parts, and performing repetitive tasks requiring high degrees of precision. Not only this, but hardware and software systems will be more connected, rather than operating as separate machines – requiring more engineers to have expertise across software and mechanical engineering.

“Automation’s integral role in our future means that technological skills will be crucial for understanding the needs of businesses, and our society – particularly coding skills.

It’s vital that we are preparing the next generation to lead industries through these changes, with the technical and creative know-how to integrate robots or collaborative robots (cobots) smoothly into society. Luckily there are companies focusing on this to bring coding skills and other robotics knowledge into the mainstream.

“For example, at Universal Robots, we have the UR Academy, which consists of a mix of online and in-person training to help develop robotics knowledge and skills for a new generation of engineers, operators and automation fans. The Academy ranges from modules that can help businesses equip their employees with the skills needed to deploy, program and set up cobots for optimal performance, to getting physical cobots into school classrooms to help prepare students for the future.

“Coding is integral to careers in automation – and in the future, blurred responsibilities between robots and human workers will require more people across many sectors, including engineering, policy, education, manufacturing and service industries, to have expertise in how machines are programmed.”


Final thoughts

What’s clear is that we live in a world where new technologies play an increasingly important role across economy and society.

Digital skills are highly valued today but will be vital in tomorrow’s world. The government, educators and businesses must work together if the UK is to keep up with the future demand for digital skills in an evolving digital landscape.

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