From education to employment

Supply of computer science skills still isn’t meeting demand in the ‘swelling tech sector’

computer science

More than four in every 100 advertised jobs in the UK require computer science skills, but experts warn that supply is currently failing to meet demand in this surging sector and there are still not enough young adults choosing this as a career at school or university. 

The new ‘computer science in the classroom’ report by OKdo, the global technology company from Electrocomponents plc, highlights that while progress has been made in the last decade to engage students this subject at school, more work is needed to ensure the thriving tech sector can continue to grow in the UK. 

Through analysis of GCSE results data from the Joint Council for Qualifications, OKdo discovered that the number of students taking the Computer Science course in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has steadily increased since it was launched: 16,773 sat the examinations and were awarded a grade in 2014 versus 78,459 in 2020 (up 367%). However, this still only represents 1.4% of all students. 

It is also a subject that continues to be dominated by male students, despite female students typically achieving higher grades. Three times as many young men (61,520 – 2.2% of all male students) sat the course in 2020 than young women (16,919 – 0.6%) with 32% of the male students being awarded a grade 7 or above – equivalent to an A or A* in the previous grading system. In comparison, 41% of the female students were awarded a grade of 7+.  

This pattern of high performance amongst female students has been consistent since 2014 and is reflected across other STEM subjects too: in the last decade, the only STEM subject where more male students have consistently earned higher GCSE grades was Mathematics. 

Regionally, Ofqual data revealed that the highest number of Computer Science students have been based in Greater London, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire. 

Looking at undergraduate UCAS accepted applications for Computer Science courses, OKdo also saw that this figure has continued to rise over time – from 13,405 in 2011 to 20,035 in 2020 (up 49%). However, again there are still very few female students – just 3,200 (16%) in 2020 – and overall, just 4.14% of students are being accepted onto computer science courses. 

Looking at the future prospects of those considering a career in computer science, there are currently more than 40,000 jobs across the UK that require relevant skills and qualifications – representing 4.21% of all ‘open’ roles (956,049). The majority of these are based in the South East and London. 

According to jobs data from Adzuna, the number of advertised roles did drop at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but this is already back up to pre-Covid levels and in some instances, recruitment is at near-record level. 

Salary prospects are also good – the current average salary of a graduate software engineer is £48,787 – over £20k more than a marketing graduate (£26,454), Paralegal (£22,803) or teaching assistant (£19,802). Across the ten most common computer science careers, the average salary was £42,023, while the average salary for advertised roles in the UK currently stands at £35,444.  

Salaries in the ten most common computer sciences careers have been consistently above the UK average since 2014. 

But a high salary alone may not be enough to tempt female talent. In a recent Kaspersky report on Women in Tech, 42% of women said that better marketing on the positive impacts that IT or technical skills can have within society was the most important measure to attract them into the industry. Just one in three (33%) women in a tech role were encouraged to learn IT skills at their school, college or university. 

Andrew Hunter, Co-Founder of job search engine Adzuna, comments:  

“The last few months have seen a surge in hiring for Tech and Digital roles, with the sector taking on staff at near-record volumes. Software Developers are in particular demand, accounting for over 1 in 100 of all the job ads currently on offer within the UK. There are also over five thousand Web Designer and Data Analyst roles lying open. The tough ask for employers is finding the skilled talent to meet this growing need. We urgently need to focus on upskilling and retraining the workforce into Computer Science-related roles to serve the swelling Tech sector and support even more future job creation.” 

Nicki Young, President of OKdo added:  

“Our research highlights just how important it is that the number of students studying computer science at GCSE and beyond – and choosing this as a career – continues to gain momentum. The tech industry has been reliably growing, and there is high demand for talented people with this specific skillset.   

“I hold a computer science degree and know from experience that even at an entry level, those coming into computer science roles are required to have a solid foundation of knowledge and expertise that is typically acquired through education. This in turn is reflected in the high entry level salaries. Getting more young students engaged in this subject early on will be key to enabling this industry’s continued growth, alongside the retraining of people looking for a fresh challenge in a thriving sector.   

“Progress has been made, but there is more work to do to really engage the tech talent of tomorrow. A Data Analyst, a Software Developer, a Web Designer – these should be aspired careers. This is particularly important amongst female students who are still studying STEM subjects in low numbers but have proven themselves to be highly capable; typically achieving higher grades than male students. I have led a large technology outfit with 100s of members, as a result I have been fortunate to have worked with some incredible women in tech, but there are still too few, and it is something I have always been passionate about addressing. We all have a responsibility to do more to showcase role model women in Technology, and all areas of STEM, to inspire the next generation.” 

Quantifying the UK Data Skills Gap

18th May 2021: This report seeks to assess the supply of data skills in relation to fast increasing demand in the UK.

Data is now the driving force of the world’s modern economies. It fuels innovation and drives business productivity.

Data-literate individuals are more likely to benefit from and contribute to the increasingly data-rich environments they live and work in. However, without data skills, the opportunities data provides will not be realised.

DCMS commissioned Opinium to undertake research to define the data skills ‘gap’ in order to be able to measure it and explore the regional and sectoral disparity in the data skills gap.

The next generation

There is a mismatch between students’ self-assessment of their industry or subject matter expertise and the reality. Businesses also want them to develop leadership and communication skills

Around a quarter of businesses said that graduates who work with data need to develop their leadership (26%) and communication (23%) skills.

Students (classified as any adults in higher education or training) are generally optimistic about their current skills and expect to improve further. For example, over two fifths (45%) of students rate their current industry/sector expertise as excellent/good, while over two thirds (68%) expect it to be excellent/good at the end of their studies.

More than half expect to be good or excellent at advanced statistics (61%), data visualisation (69%), machine learning (59%) and knowledge of emerging technologies (68%).

Half (49%) of those in higher education or training felt that the training or education path to becoming a data scientist is clear, while two fifths (39%) thought it was unclear.

215,000–234,000: the number of roles that require the hard data skills that UK businesses are seeking.

178,000: the number of specialist data roles that require technical or specialist knowledge that UK businesses are seeking.

Top 10 roles organisations are currently recruiting for:

  1. Data Analyst
  2. Head of Data
  3. Data Manager
  4. Chief Technology Officer
  5. Data Protection Officer
  6. Chief Information Officer
  7. Data Scientist
  8. Data Technician
  9. Chief Data Officer

Top 10 skills that companies need to improve (based on a comparison of Importance and current Performance):

  1. Information management
  2. Knowledge of emerging technologies and solutions
  3. Data communication skills
  4. Communication
  5. Database management
  6. Data literacy
  7. Data ethics
  8. Analysis skills
  9. Analytical mindset
  10. Adaptability

Top 10 skills businesses say their sector has insufficient skills in:

  1. Machine learning 28%
  2. Programming 24%
  3. Knowledge of emerging technologies and solutions 24%
  4. Advanced statistics 24%
  5. Data visualisation 23%
  6. Storytelling 23%
  7. Analytical mindset 22%
  8. Creativity 22%
  9. Data ethics 21%
  10. Critical thinking 21%

Top 10 skills that businesses say graduates are lacking:

  1. Basic IT skills 18%
  2. Data ethics 17%
  3. Machine learning 16%
  4. Programming 15%
  5. Data processing 15%
  6. Data communication skills 14%
  7. Knowledge of emerging technologies and solutions 13%
  8. Advanced statistics 13%
  9. Analysis skills 13%
  10. Data visualisation 13%

Top 5 priority skills businesses want to improve in the context of working with data:

  1. Communication
  2. Professionalism
  3. Problem-solving
  4. Data ethics
  5. Basic IT skills

Top 5 data skills that employees currently receive training for:

  1. Leadership
  2. Basic IT skills
  3. Project management
  4. Industry or sector expertise
  5. Data ethics


Quantifying the UK Data Skill Gap – Summary version


Quantifying the UK Data Skills Gap – Full report


Computer science in the classroom’ Report Sources:

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