Businesses urged to get involved in school IT to stem skills gap

Employers are being called on to forge closer links to schools to stem the IT skills gap, as data shows there has been a 40 per cent slump in the total number of GCSE and A-level students studying computing qualifications between 2015 and 2020.

In 2015, 144,635 students studied some form of IT/computing qualification at GCSE or A-Level, but in 2020 that figure dropped to 87,335, according to the latest Ofqual figures. After the compulsory ICT GCSE qualification was discontinued in 2015, a new computing qualification was then introduced, but it was not made compulsory.

Education charity Engineering Development Trust (EDT) and cyber security vendor RSA Security have warned that if this downward trend continues, the UK IT industry and wider economy will “suffer”. Not only will it exacerbate the digital skills gap facing UK businesses, they stated, but young people will also be leaving education without the IT knowledge and skills needed to “thrive in our increasingly digital society”.

Julie Feest, chief executive of EDT, said: “Simply put, every student that chooses a different subject instead of IT represents a missed opportunity to develop the skills that will be essential to the UK’s success as a digital powerhouse.”

She argued that the new computing GCSE does not provide a grounding knowledge of the digital world. "Students receive their qualification without being taught about essential topics like cyber-security, digital ethics, fake news or social media – all of which are becoming more prevalent in society.”

Feest said that charities will play an essential role in helping to make up the skills gap with initiatives that “enthuse” young people around IT. “Similarly, we urge employers to get involved to show young people what a career in tech has to offer,” she added.

Last year, RSA partnered with EDT to host the RSA Digital Risk Management Competition in secondary schools in the Thames Valley area. This was designed to highlight the importance of developing knowledge around digital risk and promote cyber security as a future career choice for young people.

Chris Miller, regional director for the UK and Ireland at RSA Security, said: “As employers we have a responsibility to help support the good work charities like EDT do to combat skill deficiencies, especially as their job has become much harder in recent months.

“The best way we can get young people thinking about the future is to get involved and show them what’s on offer - the IT industry is diverse, with a breadth of different careers and so the ways in which we teach young people IT skills need to be just as varied."

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