From education to employment

Back to basics – how businesses can supercharge digital skills training

Kathryn Baddeley, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Cisco

Teachers are under a lot of pressure. Amongst the many demands on their time, they’re expected to help train the next generation of digital talent, and set a strong example to students in areas such as computer literacy. As many students head into their final year of education and start to think about their future, they’re turning to their educators for answers.

A major opportunity

The importance of computer literacy is well understood. IT proficiency is almost as critical as a basic grasp of spelling and grammar for the majority of jobs today. However, computing and ICT courses can’t be what we rely on to inspire. It was recently reported that there has been a drop of more than 40,000 in those sitting for GCSEs in either computing or ICT.

A 2019 report from the Social Mobility Commission, meanwhile, indicates a huge opportunity for businesses to do more to upskill the workers they already have. While employers fund the vast majority (82%) of all UK training, they tend to prioritise high-skilled employees. Lower-skilled workers and businesses alike are missing out on this potential.

The private sector’s impact

In both education and professional environments, the private sector has a great opportunity to inspire the next generation with digital skills programmes that more closely reflect the demands of modern business. After all, these companies will recruit this future talent. The skills demanded by organisations are changing as digital transformation becomes commonplace. Whether it’s marketing or mechanics, healthcare or HR, jobs of all kinds are becoming more reliant on IT skills.

This has led to a disconnect between what higher education and professional qualifications can offer, and what’s needed to adequately meet day-to-day demands in the real world. Many businesses – from PwC to EY, GSK to even Cisco itself– are launching their own degree apprenticeship schemes in partnership with universities, to not only train their own talent through on-the-job experience, but also enable them to achieve a degree at the same time. Cisco also has its own successful intern and graduate programmes, with university leavers continuing to gain experience with us across a variety of disciplines. Investing the time, energy and resources into these bespoke programmes helps prepare the next generation of digital talent, as well as create the kind of company culture where people can really thrive. It’s great that others have recognised this, as Cisco was recently ranked as #1 in the world’s best workplaces by Great Place To Work.

Supporting teachers

Equally it’s important to support teachers earlier in this process and help them inspire students with the confidence to pursue a career in technology. At Cisco, our Networking Academy programme has been running for over 20 years, with well over 250,000 people in the UK trained to date. There are over 330 UK academies across schools, FE colleges, universities, non-profits and other organisations, all helping students develop their digital skills. Our Computing for Schools initiative also provides free tools and assets to enable teachers to teach the likes of basic cybersecurity, Linux, Python, C, and C++. These give a good grounding in the kinds of real-world skills that can serve as a springboard to the careers that are most in demand.

By supporting teachers to show students that these career paths are possible, we’re helping encourage the next generation to develop the skills they’ll need to widen their opportunities and become future leaders. The private sector has a real opportunity to help shape the talent pool of the future, using its resources and knowledge to equip teachers to do what they do best. In doing so, we can all help ensure that the UK enjoys a brighter, more inclusive digital future.

Kathryn Baddeley, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Cisco

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