Russ Shaw: Why we must make the most of Britain’s coding revolution

The founder of Tech London Advocates and Mayor of London’s Tech Ambassador explains why we need kids who code

This month the UK will make tech history by becoming the first country to compulsorily teach computing as part of its national syllabus – arguably the most important change in the curriculum for decades.

Why? Because for the next generation, the importance of a strong grounding in software in an increasingly digitalised economy cannot be underestimated; the UK’s internet economy is growing by 10% a year, and by 2025 London’s tech sector will have created 46,000 jobs, with Britain’s app market worth £31bn.

At the same time, the issue of ensuring our burgeoning tech sector is furnished with sufficient talent is increasingly pressing: over 40% of the Tech London Advocates group has identified a shortage of talent as the single biggest obstacle facing London’s technology sector.

Whether it be coding, programming or data analysis, every sector and industry is becoming increasingly reliant on tech talent. This is why addressing this shortage and ensuring Britain develops a world-beating tech talent pool is so vital – not just for the tech industries, but for the wider economy as a whole.

 The importance of tech education

If we are to fulfil our potential as a world-beating tech nation, the process must start at grass-roots level. Take South Korea for example - a leading exporter of game-changing technology, because their curriculum is geared towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects to a far greater extent than most Western nations. Technology is engrained in their education and culture, and Britain must follow suit to ensure the next generation is as well equipped for the digital economy as can be.

Creating a digital future

Introducing the computing curriculum has been a pioneering moment for British education. For too long, the government failed to respond to the growing wave of opportunity technology brings. Now that has changed and the onus for action lies with the private sector.

Organisations exist which promote digital skills, such as Makers Academy and Decoded. Many more are required to meet the demand of professionals looking to move into technology careers. But, more importantly, the private sector needs to make itself more accessible to those looking to establish digital skills.

Current education initiatives are too disparate, and the private sector remains unaware of what the computing curriculum will bring.  Apprenticeship schemes are fully utilised by tech companies, and there are not enough partnerships between businesses and universities to ensure the employment of computing graduates. If the private sector needs more of these jobs so desperately (and it does), then it needs to do something about it.

That is why I am calling for the introduction of a Digital Mentor at every business with more than 30 employees. This will not just incorporate web developers, but marketing professionals at tech companies, project managers and designers.  The tech sector requires a unique mindset and approach, which must be taught. With a Digital Mentor working with apprentices, recent graduates or new professionals, we will harness the power of the private sector and skill up a huge number of new tech employees. Combined with the computing curriculum, this would empower the British workforce and consolidate our position as a competitive tech hub on the world stage. 

Real opportunities

Digital skills are not just a current fad, they are the language of the future. We must work together to provide young people, older professionals and an increasingly ageing population with the digital vocabulary that leads to real jobs, real wages and real economic growth.

Over the past few years, London’s tech economy has experienced meteoric growth, firmly establishing itself as a leading global tech hub. Now that the coding revolution is nearly upon us, we must ensure we seize the initiative and everything the new syllabus has to offer to ensure Britain tech economy maintains its rise – right to the very top.

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