Coding is the future of the UK IT Industry

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The BBC's announcement, made recently by director general Tony Hall, of an ambitious plan to bring coding into every home, business and school in 2015, could not come at a better time. Chris Bartlett, Managing Director of GCS Recruitment Specialists who believes an increased understanding of coding will help the skills shortages impacting the UK IT industry.

UK recruitment expert and an IoD Director of the Year, Chris Bartlett, has strongly endorsed the recent announcement of BBC director general Tony Hall that the teaching of computer coding is to become more widespread within the next two years. The initiative, which Hall claims will bring coding into "every home, business, and school", is something that Bartlett believes will be vital in combating the emerging skills gaps in the UK's IT industry that were most recently acknowledged in a City & Guilds report.

"We've already begun to see the effects of increased demand for IT workers not being met," says the founder of leading UK recruitment firm GCS. "In the past, the UK IT industry has often overcome skills shortfalls by turning to foreign nationals but recent changes in Visa legislation have made this much more difficult. Businesses may still choose to outsource overseas but I believe it is vital that we keep our engineering, technology and service industries in the UK as much as possible. The BBC's recently announced plan will be invaluable to this end."

Bartlett cites a dramatic decline in ICT education curriculum standards as one of the primary reasons that Britain is now facing this potential skills drought. Remembering his own education 35 years ago, he commented, "I can still easily recall the excitement of attending computer science lessons. We were taught how to code in an early version of Basic and a language, based on machine code, called CESIL (Computer Education in Schools Introductory Language). The power we felt when we typed RUN and watched the results of our simple programs felt like we were part of something special."

Evidence of just how much attitudes towards coding have changed became clear to Bartlett two years ago when attending a parents' evening at his son's school. "A teacher informed me that if my son chose to study ICT at 'A' Level, I should not expect him to learn anything about computer programming. The course of study was based around the business application of technology but not the basics of interacting with the computer itself. The problem with this is obvious - IT departments are generally perceived to be the most important department within any organisation - most companies are unable to function if their IT systems fail. Without an adequate number of skilled technology professionals, our national IT industry will suffer seriously over the coming years."

Projections suggest that, over the next 10 years, the UK's technology industry will require around one million new workers and, in Bartlett's opinion, unless the nation works together to radically improve IT capabilities and encourage the younger generation to consider careers in technology, this will not be achievable.

"We need every business and every educational institution to get involved. As one of Britain's best known and longest standing institutions, having the BBC champion the cause is invaluable but we cannot rely solely on their efforts to fix the problem. We need more groups like TeenTech, an initiative that GCS has supported both financially and practically, that raise awareness amongst the young of the huge potential of careers in technology. Our national industry needs people who know more than just the applications of technology - we need people who know how to communicate with computers."

On a positive note, the light at the end of the tunnel is already beginning to show, says Bartlett. "I am delighted to report that my son's school has recently introduced a computer programming 'A' level course. It is steps like this that we need to make in order to ensure that everything possible is done to shore up these increasingly pronounced skills gaps within the UK IT and engineering industries."

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Daniel Evans