The future is digital. To continue innovating, expanding, and competing on a global stage, UK businesses need to ensure a ready flow of talented young developers and programmers, thinking big and equipped with the practical skills to develop truly next-generation software and hardware.
Computing education in the UK has been described as ‘in steep decline’ with pupils last year taking around 144,000 fewer qualifications across computing and ICT. Yet at the same time, many of the most significant pop-culture crazes to have captured young people’s imaginations over recent years are digital – Minecraft, Fortnite, Snapchat and Instagram.
What, then, can organisations do to tap into and nurture that digital enthusiasm and help turn it into the next generation of developers?
Gamification and making it fun
The first principle has to be fostering enthusiasm for digital technology by making it fun, rather than a chore. By appealing to young people’s curiosity – and love of games – digital technology can be presented as something with limitless possibilities for creativity and problem-solving – something to be embraced like a sport or a hobby rather than another set of rules to learn.
Various businesses as starting to recognise the value in developing products which help children begin to access the basics of coding. Consider the Turing Tumble, for example – a marble-powered computer developed in the US. Or the Raspberry Pi, increasingly used as an educational tool.
Partner with schools and universities
Going beyond the development of tools and toys aimed at young people, businesses can also choose to partner with local schools and colleges to offer classes or workshops, encouraging young people to learn the fundamentals of coding and development in a fun and relaxed way. They can offer work experience placements to older pupils who have a more direct interest in further study or a career in programming. Forging links between education and enterprise is key in plugging skills gaps and inspiring young people to take up careers that are still relatively new.
Further along the education chain, businesses can also form hugely valuable partnerships with colleges and universities, helping to shape courses in line with the skill sets that are most in demand. In many cases, they can even set tasks for students to work on which can then be applied practically in the organisation, from coming up with ideas for a new app to optimising a work process.
Offer apprenticeships and work placements
For many organisations in the technology industry, apprenticeships and work placements are relatively easy to set up and offer huge value. They simultaneously inspire young people to follow careers in the industry, furnish them with key skills and experiences, and achieve valuable outcomes within the organisation in question – provided the schemes are well set-up and managed. Apprenticeships and placements can also work in tandem with a recruitment strategy, avoiding the need to go out to recruit ‘cold’ candidates.
Competitions and prizes
Returning to the theme of gamification and making developing and coding fun, imaginative companies can set up competitions, prizes, awards, hackathons and the like to inspire creativity, gain positive press coverage and really showcase the innovative and exploratory side of working in software development. The sky really is the limit!
With a bit of imagination, technology companies have a wealth of opportunities at their fingertips with which to inspire the next generation of developers. It really is win-win.