From education to employment

Coding is key to creating a resilient UK economy

Rachid Hourizi MBE

For National Coding Week 2023, Professor Rachid Hourizi MBE of the Institute of Coding argues greater attention should be paid to developing the nation’s digital skills, at all stages of life.

This year’s theme for National Coding Week centres on artificial intelligence (AI) – with all the opportunities and challenges it brings – as well as broader themes surrounding digital skills, cyber security and of course, coding.

On the surface, whilst we are hearing an increasing amount about AI, the productions and systems to support it might seem distant from our everyday lives. For many, those systems may appear still somewhat mysterious, as if they are only ever featured in Bond movies or a tactic employed by hostile states for sinister purposes. Elsewhere, others may hold a view that complicated digital systems and processes are only ever used, or invented, by a small demographic.

While the relevance of digital skills and the structure that underpins them couldn’t be more important in our everyday lives, it is a sad reality that the latter point has some truth, with data showing just one quarter of the UK tech sector workforce are women, while just 13 per cent of senior leadership positions are held by those from ethnic minorities.

In order to create products, systems and processes that benefit everyone in society, it is vital that those who create the devices and tools we use everyday are reflective of the population as a whole and represent the communities we seek to serve. When speaking with employers across the country, they have shared that the contributions of those who take alternative routes into the tech sector and all the experiences and ideas they bring with them are deeply valued.

However, attraction of diverse talent into the tech sector remains a real challenge. With more than 870,000 vacancies, it is clear we need to rapidly develop our capacity to build on the coding proficiency and digital skills of everyone across society. The Institute of Coding is helping to build that capacity directly on the ground. Working with a selection of partner education institutions, employers and social mobility organisations across the country, we are working to tackle the digital skills gap and to develop the next generation of innovative digital minds.

Slowly it is becoming more of an accepted truth that we need a diverse set of pathways to get all kinds of people into AI. We need to provide opportunities for everyone, including those with caring responsibilities or those that aren’t recent school leavers. To address this, the Institute of Coding’s free short, stackable programmes help learners fit studies around existing commitments, with hybrid delivery allowing them to maximise study time.

Supporting those seeking a career change is also central to broadening the range of experiences and ideas within the tech sector. One of those driven ‘career switchers’ who took part on the Click Start TechUPWomen programme, based at Durham University, is Molly.

Molly was working in the recruitment industry during the pandemic and despite always having a keen interest in problem solving and technology, did not know how to kickstart her career in digital. With a network of partnerships between employers and educators, the Institute of Coding provided Molly with a solution.

Combined with one-to-one mentoring and specialist careers guidance from tech industry employers, Molly had the signposting and confidence boost she needed to kickstart her career in digital, alongside looking after her two young children.

This success story thankfully is not completely unique, as Molly joins one million other learners who have taken part in Institute of Coding programmes to date. However, while there is much to celebrate, we cannot be complacent with such a significant recruitment gap across the sector.

To tackle this on the ground, it is vital that educators, employers and government work together to look at the delivery of skills, in terms of ensuring both maximum flexibility in delivery, and maximum appeal to learners from all walks of life.

Everyone, no matter their background should have the opportunity to embark on a future in tech. Only when we recognise this and work directly with communities across the country will we truly begin to tackle the digital skills gap and build a workforce fit to tackle the technological challenges of the future.

By Professor Rachid Hourizi MBE is Director of the Institute of Coding, based at the University of Bath

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