Over the past few months I have been working closely with e-skills UK, the not-for-profit , employer-led organisation, licensed by government as the Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology. Their aim is ensure the UK has the skills for Digital Britain, to secure Britain’s place at the forefront of the global digital economy.
I was shocked to find out, in some research they commissioned, there has been a massive drop off in the uptake of Computing degrees over the last five years. UK applicants to Computing / Information Systems / Software Engineering courses have dropped by 50%, down to 13,500 people by 2006.
This is worrying when over 141,000 new entrants a year are needed to fill IT & Telecoms professional job roles and the growth forecast for the IT & Telecoms professional workforce (i.e. IT & Telecoms Employment in the IT industry is predicted to grow at 5 times the average for the UK.
What’s even more scary is the gender imbalance is prevalent on IT-related courses, and this is worsening over time throughout the education system. 15% of applicants to Computing degree courses are female and 10% of A-level Computing students are female. Now the proportion of female IT & Telecoms professionals has dropped to 18%.
I have been working with eskills on their Big Ambition Girls In IT events- They have been doing a stellar job helping school girls meet women in IT professions to share and gain an insight into what it’s actually like working in IT, but now the project is under threat as the government proposes to send its funding somewhere else.
There has been much debate on why there aren’t more girls in IT and I have strong views on the subject. I believe the problem is still to do with the stigma attached to tech related courses – It’s uncool to be geeky or nerdy and the last subject hormonal 14-year-girls want to choose for their GCSEs, is one where they think they’ll be locked away in a dark room learning excel- Yet so many 14-year-old girls are surrounding themselves with technology every day. Facebook, Bebo, Myspace, mobiles, iPods, girls are using technology 24-7 but they aren’t shown the connections between studying tech and the kind of jobs it could create for them. Cool jobs that are well paid and aren’t geeky: designing the next Wii game or a Prada watch that syncs with their phone, working at Facebook.
To solve the problem the Government needs to convert the current curriculum from being completely irrelevant to one which is flexible and adapting as fast as the technology industry is, and most importantly like eskills has been doing with Big Ambition, we need to give girls access to more female role models in IT and show them the connections between studying IT and the career path it could lead to. We need to make tech sexy, make it appealing and shake of the stigma that’s turning girls away from an industry that is very cool, has much to offer and should be dominating the future of Britain.
The eskills research is really good, some scary numbers though..I have uploaded it for you here http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B_QPgUoZvqbyOTYzZjAxMDUtMmU5Ni00MzFkLWI5MDgtYzJjMWM5MTVkNzNm&hl=en
Here’s a video we did an an event they had a couple months back, Lord Steven Carter spoke about the Digital Britian report and industry professionals came to see the work eskills have been doing.