BCS: UK tech industry faces skills crisis

BCS: UK tech industry faces skills crisis

Summary: Industry will go elsewhere if there is no investment in UK skills now, according to the president of the British Computing Society

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TOPICS: Networking
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The UK technology industry faces a looming skills crisis, according to the president of the British Computing Society, Professor Nigel Shadbolt.

A fall of a third in the intake for full-time undergraduate computer science degrees since 2001, coupled with a technology industry increasingly hungry for skills could combine to have a major effect on the UK economy, Shadbolt told ZDNet UK on Friday.

"The technology industry is vibrant and growing — adding over 150,000 new jobs per annum," said Shadbolt. "There is an increase in demand, while the number of people with relevant skills is staying static or declining — clearly there will be a shortfall."

The professor said there was a complex set of reasons for the problem, and that schools and teachers needed more support in order to maintain the current high calibre of UK technology skills.

"People who teach IT often feel they are delivering a support function rather than encouraging students to think creatively," said Shadbolt.

A positive message needs to be sent about science and technology to encourage more study and participation, he added.

"It's a job of work to say to people that this extraordinary profession has changed the world, and will continue to do so in the future," said Shadbolt.

Shadbolt is calling for an integrated, concerted national strategy involving collaboration between professional bodies, government and schools to further understand the nature of the problem, and find a solution.

"I'm not saying there aren't a significant number of capable people who are essentially self-taught, but [the strategy] needs to be structured and organised nationally, in an integrated fashion," said Shadbolt.

The booming games industry combined with tech such as nano- and bio-technology are driving the need for skills. Shadbolt said that there was a danger that multinational companies may go elsewhere to find skills, taking valuable investment in the UK ecomomy with them.

"Flight [of international companies] will happen if there is no investment in training the right skills in the UK," said Shadbolt.

Topic: Networking

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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4 comments
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  • The problem is even bigger

    Nigel is right to say that computing should not be taught and promoted only as a technical support activity, but also as something involving creativity and intellectual excitement: i.e. learning to design, analyse, document, compare, criticise, extend working systems, instead of merely using tools others have developed. Some of us recommended that about 30 years ago. But instead governments, industry, parents, and schools started teaching computing as a preparation for jobs where pre-existing tools would be used. So the brightest school kids think it is useful but too boring to study at university (like cooking?).

    To remedy this, far more will be needed than a change of curriculum, and far more than simply convincing politicians, parents, industrialists, and teachers. We cannot magically create thousands of teachers who are equipped to teach computing in the right way (as some used to do in the 1980s using BBC micros), or the hardware, software and technical support required to provide a good infrastructure for the right kind of learning. A possible (partial) solution might be to develop a national education-server (preferably distributed over centres of expertise) supporting a lot of kinds of learning and teaching with much mutual help by teachers and learners.

    The problems and a possible solution along those lines are discussed here
    http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/misc/compedu.html

    Aaron Sloman
    http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/~axs/
    Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science
    School of Computer Science
    The University of Birmingham
    A.Sloman9
  • Someone needs to get this message out to local BCS groups

    This problem has been longstanding and locally we have been trying to instigate programmes to make the industry more attractive to school pupils.

    Unfortunately we are attempting to do this in conjunction with industry representatives (a large number of whom are BCS members). We find that the BCS members look on in horror when the concept of bringing creativity and entrepreneurship into the programme is addressed.
    GordonWright
  • The Best and Brightest?

    This is a direct consequence of Labour deciding 50% of the population should have a degree, e.g most of the averagely intelligent members of the population who don't need it and won't use it. This Lowest Common Denominator comprehensive education policy simply drives the truly academically difficult courses and the culture of excellence out of the system as most of the undergraduate feedstock cannot pass the course.

    What our industry needs is people who have a real degree which challenges intellectual creativity and reason, the top 10% or so of the population who can do the hard stuff. The population hasn't all become magically more intelligent under labour, just better taught and marked on coursework - easy.

    What the labour PC approach to 'ology/media content based degrees for all does is make the truly intellectual degrees look too difficult and take away their funding, as Universities will present the soft courses that get the best results against Blair's targets.

    To get what we really need takes a reversal of the move to meaningless degrees for all and a positive discrimination towards the bright, who should be fully state funded end to end through school system and the best Universities. Not just in hard science but also in creative arts, etc. But not average people, they don't need and don't want degrees, mostly they want to be trained to do a decent job at school. Keeping them at University for 3 more years just lowers the unemployment rate at their parents and their own expense. They are forced into this by being told they need an irrelevant degree to get a job - its so cynical and is diluting our academic excellence in the UK.

    Maybe a special numerate degree fast track program recognised to be for top 10% and accessible from any point in the mass education system to those who mature and/or wake up late (like me)

    If you focus on blanket academic success for the mediocre masses then you will get a mediocre workforce. We need to take and educate the best as well as we can, end to end in streamed sytems, not everyone to a single mediocre standard.

    We don't want and can't support too many thinkers anyway. For those not academically gifted there are a whole range of often more needed and better paid craft based opportunities from plumbing to accountancy which can often pay more and create oportunities and jobs for the entrepreneurially gifted - who can then employ the academically able, this isn't about economic power, its horses for courses .

    In my opinion.

    Brian Catt
    brian.catt9
  • The Best and Brightest?

    This is a direct consequence of Labour deciding 50% of the population should have a degree, e.g most of the averagely intelligent members of the population who don't need it and won't use it. This Lowest Common Denominator comprehensive education policy simply drives the truly academically difficult courses and the culture of excellence out of the system as most of the undergraduate feedstock cannot pass the course.

    What our industry needs is people who have a real degree which challenges intellectual creativity and reason, the top 10% or so of the population who can do the hard stuff. The population hasn't all become magically more intelligent under labour, just better taught and marked on coursework - easy.

    What the labour PC approach to 'ology/media content based degrees for all does is make the truly intellectual degrees look too difficult and take away their funding, as Universities will present the soft courses that get the best results against Blair's targets.

    To get what we really need takes a reversal of the move to meaningless degrees for all and a positive discrimination towards the bright, who should be fully state funded end to end through school system and the best Universities. Not just in hard science but also in creative arts, etc. But not average people, they don't need and don't want degrees, mostly they want to be trained to do a decent job at school. Keeping them at University for 3 more years just lowers the unemployment rate at their parents and their own expense. They are forced into this by being told they need an irrelevant degree to get a job - its so cynical and is diluting our academic excellence in the UK.

    Maybe a special numerate degree fast track program recognised to be for top 10% and accessible from any point in the mass education system to those who mature and/or wake up late (like me)

    If you focus on blanket academic success for the mediocre masses then you will get a mediocre workforce. We need to take and educate the best as well as we can, end to end in streamed sytems, not everyone to a single mediocre standard.

    We don't want and can't support too many thinkers anyway. For those not academically gifted there are a whole range of often more needed and better paid craft based opportunities from plumbing to accountancy which can often pay more and create oportunities and jobs for the entrepreneurially gifted - who can then employ the academically able, this isn't about economic power, its horses for courses .

    In my opinion.

    Brian Catt
    brian.catt9