From education to employment

Closing the IT skills gap from within education

Bill Quinn, Managing Director, Future Cert

If you work in the IT sector or education – or simply read a newspaper – there’s no need to tell you that a chronic shortage of qualified IT professionals continues to impede economic growth in the UK. Yet, despite agreeing that there is a problem, authorities across industry, the education sector and the Government, fail to agree on whether this is as the result of misdirected training provision, a lack of understanding as to the role of professional certification, a lack of industry recognition as to the value of skills or Government lip-service in terms of drawing the parties together.

In a new white paper, Future Cert argues that a double-whammy of factors is increasing, not narrowing, the IT skills gap:

  • Traditional education methods are too theoretical and ignore the knowledge, skills and abilities required by 21st Century employers, they say.
  • At the same time, employers are perpetuating skills shortages by failing to support IT staff with the training and development needed to grow their organisations and failing to pay salaries that demonstrate a value in professional expertise and qualification, over ‘time on the job’.

Future Cert’s latest report – Whose Fault is the IT Skills Gap – focuses on the role that professional certification (specifically Linux certification) should have in closing the IT skills gap in the UK. It discusses this, drawing on first hand research, from the perspective of IT professionals, educators, employers and the UK Government.

The report found that 93% of employers felt skills gaps were negatively affecting at least one critical business area such as staff productivity, IT security, and customer service or customer engagement and 90% had faced difficulties recruiting workers with the required skills in the last 12 months.

Training and development was a significant area for study. Almost four in ten (39%) respondents said they’d like to do more IT training and nearly a third (29%) felt their employer could be doing more to improve their knowledge and skills. Almost 40% of employees felt their employer either doesn’t provide enough IT training or doesn’t provide any IT training at all.

Linux certification delivers clear personal and professional benefits 88% of IT professionals surveyed said certification delivered tangible positive results for their career and personal development. The top five benefits cited were that Linux certification had improved their: knowledge in a particular area (57%); confidence level (52%) and performance in their role (32%).

Future Cert works with educators across Higher and Further Education. By building certification into existing IT Apprenticeship and degree programmes, we believe that students leave that stage of their education with an employer-friendly combination of technical skills and proven knowledge. Research amongst IT professionals clearly shows that high quality Linux certification delivers a raft of benefits that support self-development and career aspiration.

In the report, however, Future Cert, led a sector-wide discussion, sharing the views of those responsible for preparing students for professional work, as well as providing continuing professional training.

Open University Senior Lecturer in Networking, Andrew Smith: “Linux is the operating system that underpins a vast range of industry sectors across the UK, Europe and wider world – yet there is a major global shortage of Linux-skilled IT professionals which threatens growth and innovation. Employers want IT staff with high-level knowledge and skills. A CV that shows a candidate has undertaken LPI training and certification is recognisable proof of those skills and evidence of them making a major investment in their employability.”

Stephen Murphy, academic lead for the Birmingham City University LPI academy: “We’re a practice-based University and work hard to ensure our graduates are work-ready. Linux and Open Source skills are in high demand, so it makes perfect sense to offer students certification that is completely relevant to industry and which complements the rigour required from their academic studies. There are very few Universities taking this approach.”

Vivien Gallacher, Consortium Manager, Scottish College Computing Consortium (S3C): “Vendor qualifications are highly valued by local employers because their content is up-to-date and because certification provides validated evidence of Linux knowledge and skills. Open Source is important to the consortium. It keeps costs low and enables learners to install free software on their home computers and devices.”

Bill Quinn, Managing Director of Future Cert, says: “The best IT training should combine academic rigour, commercial application and Open Source technologies.  A large proportion of the world’s technology solutions use Open Source, so having a skilled workforce that can service them is vital.  Technology moves fast, particularly in these days of cyber attack.  Wise employers ensure that their IT workforce have cutting-edge skills. Those who fail to invest in relevant, high quality IT training will see a negative impact on growth.” 

The report went on to draw together case study examples from FE colleges like Belfast Metropolitan College and Scotland’s S3C college consortium, and Higher Education institutions like Birmingham City University and the University of Greenwich. In all cases certification is embedded in apprenticeship and degree programmes, offering a practical alternative to more traditional pedagogic professional training. Another example highlighted how Belfast Met is offering certification-based apprenticeship schemes, pairing students with local companies including Fujitsu, Capita, the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the PSNI, Dale Farm and Randox Laboratories, in a bid to close the IT skills gap across Northern Ireland.

Finally, the report provided a detailed study of an employer case-study, UKFast, who had not only partnered with LPI to provide an apprenticeship program and qualifications within the company, but has expanded into a much broader effort to bring digital literacy to Greater Manchester. Today, UKFast hosts a Code Club and free Linux training for young people; it offers teacher training for teachers across Manchester; it has partnered with LPI to develop qualifications with exam boards; and it is even working with the Dean Trust to start a new secondary school focused on digital literacy.

The report’s key recommendations for educators are:

  1. To inspire creativity to solve problems though IT, rooted in practical application;
  2. To improve training/CPD for teachers of the new computing curriculum to ensure their knowledge and skills are relevant to the economy’s needs;
  3. To build Certification into every IT degree course and Apprenticeship;
  4. To foster stronger links between education/training providers and employers;
  5. To move away from classroom-based learning to offer more flexible learning packages;
  6. To learn lessons from forward-thinking providers who are already embedding these principles. 

Bill Quinn, Managing Director, Future Cert

About Future Cert: Future Cert representing the Linux Professional Institute is a leading, recognised provider of Linux certification across the UK and Ireland.

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