Everyone wants everyone to learn how to code these days. Apparently, it’s the ‘fourth literacy’, whatever that is. Watch Lottie Dexter explain to Jeremy Paxman about the need for everyone to code as she launched the “Year of Code” initiative earlier this year. Don’t worry about the fact that neither could code, or had much of an idea about what it means to code – it was all great TV.
So why all this froth about teaching kids to code? It’s hardly because it’s trendy – although even that’s changing (the Economist, no less, points out that it’s hot to be a geek these days) – and it’s not because it’s easy. It’s far more likely that the reason is down to supply and demand: something radical is needed to address the severe and growing shortage of computer programmers in business, everywhere. eSkills UK, a body that keeps an eye on such things, pointed out in its 2012 Technology Insights report that:
“…the (IT) sector needs not only a vibrant, well-skilled recruitment pool but also more innovative and skilful approaches to recruitment, workforce development and HR management in order to secure the technical, business, design and innovation skills needed for the future.”
Two years later, the digital skills shortfall is as bad as ever, with potentially significant consequences for all industries that rely on IT – which includes just about everybody. So what’s being done?
Not much on the surface, if you discount the ill-fated Year of Code, but there are in fact several quiet bits of activity elsewhere. Some are coming from the IT sector itself, which of course is the most heavily impacted in the short term, but schemes are also emerging in other parts of industry. Government is leading the way with such initiatives as the DWP’s digital academy, and collaborative ventures such as the HMRC’s digital centres. All laudable, but unlikely to provide the full complement of skills needed in the long term. Addressing the systemic skills shortage requires more inventive thinking.
A good example of such lateral thinking is the Kainos CodeCamp initiative, designed to coax bright high-school students into the digital industry. CodeCamp is aimed at high school students and is designed to bridge the gap between school-taught ICT (which is mostly about spreadsheets and documents) and real-life software development. CodeCamp participants learn about how software is designed and built, and are introduced to the project management frameworks that support development. Most of all, they get an inside view of what it’s like to work as a software engineer.
This commitment to harnessing youthful innovation is not simply altruistic. Kainos is one of a number of companies that is finding it difficult to source and recruit high-quality specialists, and as a result is turning to apprenticeship schemes, extensive graduate placement and more. The results of such investments are mutually beneficial: Kainos gets talent and talent gets rewarded. Of course, it’s more sophisticated and demanding than teaching two-year olds how to code. Like most creative industries, it requires aptitude, flair and raw talent. And it’s also about hard work, and high reward. It’s not for everyone, but it’s fun!