James Downes, co-founder of Maker Life, explains how we are to bridge the Digital Skills Gap and ensure we have enough trained programmers to meet future demand.
A digital skills gap is looming. Within just two years there will be a shortfall of nearly a million skilled programmers and other technical professionals, according to the EU Commission, and the demand for programming skills already outstrips supply.
Part of the problem lies in education – teaching children programming is difficult and requires hard skills, plus equipment can be expensive and difficult to use.
However, it’s incredibly important that we bridge this gap before we fall too far behind. Wired Magazine has predicted that coding could become the next main blue-collar job which, if true, could leave us a generation behind other parts of the world – affecting our economy and the job prospects of today’s young people.
Downes commented: “Fortunately, children are wonderfully adaptable and inquisitive. If we can provide the tools to inspire them to learn and succeed, I have every faith that they will take the opportunity. However, to do that there are a few issues that need solving.”
The issue with most kits, however, is the level of complexity. Most adults, let alone children, aren’t ready to jump straight into programming a home automation system quite yet. Starting with something complicated is more likely to confuse and scare children and teachers alike, putting them off trying other coding projects and programming in general.
Yet, a lot of single-board computers require the use of solder to attach components. For younger children, this clearly isn’t safe. Even with teenagers, it might be asking a lot for teachers to supervise 30 youngsters with soldering irons. Not to mention the need for 30 soldering irons.
Some kits which have been designed for education require someone with existing programming skills to interpret the instructions. If a kit looks too puzzling for an adult to figure out, they won’t feel comfortable teaching it to children.
However, coding is definitely just as much for girls as it is for boys and some of the biggest tech companies in the world are run by women. It’s incredibly important that we encourage girls to take up STEM subjects in general and create coding kits that appeal to both genders.
The aim isn’t to fast-track primary school children into becoming expert coders by age eleven, it’s to inspire them and build confidence in their abilities so that they want to keep learning and developing their skills.
To make kits fun. If kids are enjoying what they are doing, they will want to keep doing it. If they can see their skills improve, they will feel a sense of achievement. Put those two concepts together and you get a fun, achievable coding project kit.
Coding isn’t just good for the labour market, of course. More and more aspects of our lives will be dominated by digital, so learning to code will be an important part of learning to interact with the world around us.