The IFB News Pipe

Blog: We do need some education

3 April 2013

An industry which demands high levels of skills and expertise, is critical to any business operation, is a massive economic enabler and offers well above average remuneration and opportunities on a global basis is suffering a huge skills shortage.

Sound familiar?

Would you be surprised if it was not Oil & Gas (sorry energy), but the ICT industry I was talking about and that these shortages are here in Scotland?

Directly the IT and Digital industry employs around 100,000 people in Scotland.  The sector is growing at 4 times the Scottish average, and while this needs to be measured, of course, as we are in a recession it is still growing ahead of the rest. In fact the forecasts predict that 45,000 new professionals will be needed within the industry over the next 5 years.

This stacks well with the energy sectors forecast of 120,000 new jobs in this sector over the next 10 years.


So why the shortage?


Surely it’s a no brainer that getting yourself involved when the use, need and demand for IT is only going to grow in a similar way to the demand for newly, qualified engineers and where nearly 40%+ of the skilled workforce is within 15 years of retiring.


The facts are that there are only around 1,500 students graduating in computing related subjects each year in Scotland with around 7,000 jobs being created.


May I suggest that it is not this end of the wire, or fibre or pipeline that is the problem? IT, like any other within STEM, is viewed as being not sexy. Never has been and unless we change how the process of educating to work it, never will be. So we, as an industry need to make ourselves more enthralling as a career choice, perhaps before those choices are made for us.


To me, thing are actually getting worse before they get better. We are still teaching our kids  IT or ICT in school when the vast majority of 10year olds are more nimble and agile around a computer or technology environment than their30 year old teacher. The average mean age of a primary and secondary teacher in Scotland is 42- Google it.


When they were of a similar age to the kids they are teaching the technology was the Sony Walkman (1979), CD’s and the ZX Spectrum (1982) and Apple dominated the personal computer market reaching $1b in computer sales in 1982 –  No Google though.


If you are a teacher please don’t take this as a comment on your teaching ability It is not a comment on your ability to teach us about King Harold just because you were not there in 1066. But I do think it is that simple with technology. If you don’t understand how it works or been through the process then you cannot teach the next generation simply because you are a user, the same as they are.


Teaching  to student’s full potential should be inspiring. Learning a new language really becomes pertinent when you get the chance to use it and make a different to your immediate self and those around you. Being shown how to use the subject(s), you are taught to problem solve on and off the paper, which will make you look at the world and the opportunities it can offer you, in a bigger way.


And that’s my problem.


As a generation of push button, voice controlled, motion gesture users we have lost the ability to inspire children about the mechanics behind so many things.


The teachers who understand the stuff that makes, well stuff work, are usually viewed as a novelty and not as the mainstream certainly in IT. Showing our kids to use an office suite of software tools gears them up to work in an office. Nothing wrong with that but that’s not what the economy needs.


Our industry is screaming out for talent who want to make a difference. We are looking for school leavers and graduates that have the relevant skills and attitude and who can come in to our businesses and ask, what do you think? They are the individuals who have applied themselves with thought and viewed an outcome.


This attitude can only be ignited in primary, fuelled throughout secondary and set alight in further education by applying the relevant teaching methods.


Stop thinking ICT and start living Digital. This is the world we live in and the world the kids in education at all levels right now have known since. .


Don’t show our kids how to use PowerPoint, they will know how to do this already or will pick it up in 30 minutes of powering up the PC in the ICT lab. Be assured it will look better to them on their own device whatever shape, colour or brand it happens to be.


Do give them an iPad, or digital camera, or PC, or whatever and ask them to create and edit a stop motion movie about their away day on the beach or school project. Then let them upload it to YouTube, password protect it and then share it with their friends and parents or other schools and take on board tips, hints and feedback and improve.


Show them what sits behind a button or an icon and the complexity of what happens after that simple action of pushing or waving or speaking. Then let them alter the code so that something different happens and  they can see they made that difference.


Ensure that FE students actually understand what the ask of the employer is and not just the grade needed to pass the course.


Get industry involved in the same way when I was a kid a man from Shell or BP or somewhere like that came in to my secondary maths class, because he was mates with my teacher, with a great big model of an oil rig and  proceeded to take it apart and get us to put it back together. While we did this he explained the interactions between each section. Without every single part or the experts who had designed and maintained each part, the whole process would fail.


Industry wants to help right at the start of the pipeline. The output from the educational system right now is not enough in quality and quantity.


Which is fine, but fine is the worst four letter F word I know as it is just on the good side of underperforming.

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