National Coding Week, a volunteer-led initiative that aims to promote people’s digital confidences and skills, is upon us. I cannot underestimate the significance of this annual event particularly as we are in the middle of a growing digital skills crisis. We already have significant skill shortages, and currently, nearly 25 percent of the UK’s digital community describe sourcing talent as a major challenge. This situation will only further escalate as organisations implement newer technologies like 5G and virtual reality in the workplace.
The skill shortage is not news. The media, the UK government and many organisational leaders continually draw attention to the constricting labour supply, and while measures are advocated and taken in some examples, the truth is the numbers are continuing to drop. Recently, my colleague Trish Burridge spoke about the alarming trend happening in UK schools as the numbers taking GCSE and A-level Computer Science falls. This data has to make employers a little nervous as the pipeline for digital talent begins at school, and if it dries up there, it will lead to a shortage within organisations.
As the debate rages around this question, I offer my solution. Why don’t we focus on getting more women into the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)? Currently, women make up just 23% of those working in core STEM occupations in the UK. If we work to close the diversity gap in these fields, we naturally help close the wider digital skills gap. Women are an untapped resource of digital talent.
One of the arguments I hear raised against this proposition is the rather old-fashioned notion that girls are not interested in or suited to a career in science or technology. In fact, who can forget the infamous Google manifesto that caused such an uproar earlier this year? Therefore what we need first is an attitude overhaul; that with better education and encouragement of both genders, we can chip away at antiquated attitudes and create an equal workplace. The bottom line is that women are just as capable as men. People often ask, “Why should more women get into STEM?” It’s like asking why women should be doctors.
Schools must play their part
From a practical standpoint, encouraging girls to get into STEM ultimately starts with education. Why not make coding mandatory for all students? If everyone studies coding it will go a long way to defusing the myth that STEM is for boys. Coding is excellent because it develops different parts of the brain, so even if children don’t go on to study STEM subjects, or pursue careers in STEM, coding is still very useful especially now that all workplaces are becoming more reliant on technology.
I also believe businesses have a crucial role to play too. It is to their benefit if they communicate the digital skills they will need from the future workforce and provide the relevant training and resources to support and guide schools. Skillsoft works with various charities across the world, donating digital skills learning content to their members and leadership teams including Code like a Girl and Tech Sassy Girlz to help ensure we transfer the desired skills and knowledge to the workers of the future.
The important role of role models
Ultimately, to be something, you need to see examples of people who inspire you. So the lack of female role models in technology and STEM is also part of the problem. Since males currently dominate the field, we need more of them to start sponsoring women’s career development and advocating for their advancement. Studies show that with sponsorship, women in STEM are 200 percent more likely to have their ideas implemented and 22 percent are more likely to be satisfied with their rate of promotion. It will also help young, female students to feel like they have a place in STEM if women who have climbed up the STEM ladder could showcase themselves and their career choice to others. To show young, female students that working in STEM is rewarding and, most importantly, that women belong in the industry.
To learn about the all events and activities planned, please go to National Coding Week for the details.
Tara O’Sullivan is the Chief Marketing Officer at Skillsoft.