BCS’s Director of Education, Julia Adamson highlights the importance of a diverse IT workforce and pipeline, we face a tough economic recovery and a shortage of digital skills post COVID-19.

Life as we now know it

It is March already! 2021 seems to have flown by in some ways but equally dragged in others. For me, at least, it has been the year that I have not stepped foot in a supermarket, or any other shop come to think about it! And like much of 2020, I have not been in the office, not travelled the daily commute, and not be able to fill the weekends with friends, families, and outings. And as a full-time working mum of 3 school-aged children it certainly has been a challenge to juggle all that came with learning and working from home. I was pretty apprehensive about breaking our little family bubble, despite the intensity of it all, but Lexie, Olivia and Bertie have returned to education and it’s all good, I’ve particularly enjoyed having the home broadband connection all to myself, not doing long division and multiplying decimals over lunch, and hearing them tell me all about their day each evening.

The rise in home working, caring and schooling during the pandemic put significant additional pressure on every household, with research published by UCL highlighting that women spent more than twice as much time as men on home-schooling during the lockdown. We have all faced challenges throughout this period, but despite that we have continued to deliver and develop our vision for a world where IT is good for society - it is testament to the resilience, dedication and flexibility of our amazing team at BCS that we’ve continued and even accelerated much of our work.

International women’s day in tech

March plays host to International Women’s Day and I was extremely proud to be included in our celebrations, choosing to challenge myself, and others to advocate for more girls to be encouraged and supported to have a great computing education.

This International Women’s Day it has really struck me how much more inclusive our world and our IT and computing community needs to be. Both across the world at large, but in organisations like BCS as well, we are stepping up to recognise the diversity of women across our industries and communities.

The BCS partnership with Coding Black Females is a great initiative to include more black women in BCS so we can learn from their skills and insight and hopefully provide support, learning and networking, a really meaningful partnership that we will nurture and develop. Black women make up less than 1% of the IT industry according to data from the Office for National Statistics and we aim to improve on that, to encourage women from all backgrounds and identities to help shape the world of computing because without this diversity of voices, we will all be poorer.

Skills needed for economic recovery

The giant leap in digitisation caused by the pandemic, combined with the on-going trend of automation, makes digital skills some of the most urgently needed across the UK economy. The 2020 Open University Business Barometer Report confirms that almost two in five employers report that they will be the skills needed, ranking second-only to leadership skills. Yet, there remains a growing and persistent digital skills gap. The CBI recently estimated two thirds of digital skills vacancies were unfilled, with only a third of companies saying that they were confident that UK businesses will be able to access the digital skills they need over the next 2 to 5 years. 

What are we doing?

But there is significantly more to do to raise awareness of the incredible diversity and benefits of digital careers amongst young people. Not enough young people are leaving school with the essential digital skills they need for further study or for entering the workforce.

This is why BCS is now working with partners such as the Institute for Engineering and Technology and the Good Things Foundation to reduce the digital divide across communities.

Issues of underrepresentation exist across the UK. In England, less than a third of school leavers (16 year olds) leave with a computing related qualification, and just over a quarter of that group are female. In Scotland the recent report on the Scottish technology ecosystem (the Logan Review) identified that there is a “horrendous under participation of girls in Computing Science” and that the subject is “not signalled as important to future career opportunities”.

In a move to improve the digital literacy of children and young people, the Senedd in Wales recently voted for the introduction of a new curriculum from 2022 which will see digital competence mandatory in schools alongside literacy and numeracy for the first time; and in Northern Ireland, the Assembly is currently working on its new digital strategy which we believe will have a strong focus on digital skills. We will be working with our partners there to champion the need to tackle the gender gap ion computer science and digital skills.

At BCS we are supporting many initiatives which prioritise and invest in computing education for young people: including the National Centre for Computing Education, development of the Digital T levels; growth of digital apprenticeships and much more. But I know we can do a great deal more, so I am #ChoosingToChallenge you all!

  • How can you support and empower more young females to see the opportunities that computing education offers?
  • How can you help young females to understand that digital skills will turbocharge their career opportunities, not just in the IT sector - but in every sector?

If you missed it, check out our #ChooseToChallenge here. What will you choose to challenge this year?