The Battle For Technology’s Future And Arming Our Children For A Role In IT

The Battle For Technology’s Future And Arming Our Children For A Role In IT

By Andy McKay, GM, Converged

After a long day at work I find myself reclined on my chair once again pondering the future of technology.  Where will it lead and who will deliver that technology to the wider community in the next 20 years.

I don’t get long to ponder, as manoeuvres upstairs grab my attention.  The ceiling light in the living room is dancing to the rhythm of the footsteps from above.  It is clear that my nine-year-old son, whose bedroom is overhead, is the culprit of this regular routine.  He has become engaged in an online Fortnite battle with his friends.  As the noise and vibrations increase in tempo, it is clear operations are reaching their final crescendo as the skirmish is won or lost.  Thankfully the lights and ceiling remain intact.

Within minutes of a truce being declared overhead, my son takes the opportunity to drop into the living room.  Not as a result of structural damage inflicted on the house by the earlier melee, but thanks to Alexa.  I’m greeted on the echo show by a small face bursting with colour after the exertion of the disco dancing that is a necessary part of today’s all-action online gaming.  I’m then given a very descriptive and detailed debrief of how his team were defeated.  What impresses, though, is the number and variety of words that can be vocalised in between breaths, before instructing Alexa to end the call.  There are more important things to do than chat to Dad, there are more tussles to triumph in.

I know I am not alone in experiencing such scenarios – most parents whose children have an online gaming presence will have encountered similar situations in what are fast becoming smart homes.  Like many, I am concerned about the amount of time children spend gaming; some days I feel like a UN peacekeeper negotiating a truce to persuade my son to lay down the controller.  That is a separate debate for another day.

Most technically savvy generation of children

Today, we are bringing up the most technically savvy generation of children the world has yet seen.  Just as the Comodore 64s and ZX Spectrums of the 1980s, and the Super Nintendos and Sega Mega Drives of the 90s that many of us grew up playing brought us great joy, today’s children derive the same satisfaction from their modern-day successors, which have capabilities that blow those 80s and 90s consoles out of the water.

The enthusiasm and joy that children now gain from technology must be captured, as this upcoming generation will be at the forefront of delivering truly cutting-edge technology.  What concerns me most is how it is harnessed in order to address the current skills gap that has emerged within the technology sector.

The figures speak for themselves

In Scotland, the economy supports an estimated 92,000 technology professionals, of which around 36,000 work in dedicated technology businesses, with the remainder being employed by companies operating in other industries.  It is estimated that 11,000 new entrants into the technology sector are required in Scotland each year, which is around a fifth of the country’s current birth rate.

When you consider the range of other industries that exist in Scotland and which also require new young talent, the scale of the challenge of attracting youngsters into the IT arena becomes clear.  As technology continually advances and the impact it has on other sectors grows and evolves, the need for IT professionals will only grow.

How do we fill this skills gap, which if left unchecked will explode in size in the coming years?

I firmly believe that it has to start at an early age.  Children are immersed in technology throughout their school years.  Along with learning how computers work and how they can be used as a learning aid, children need to hear about the benefits of technology, how it impacts their lives, the doors it could open and the positive opportunities it can present.  Only by giving them this understanding can we engage and excite them about IT as a career option.

Schools are the starting point.  But, is the IT curriculum which is taught in our classrooms delivering the type of learning today’s children require?  Teachers do a fantastic job and possess a wealth of knowledge to deliver their syllabus, but they’re not James Bond.  They don’t, and shouldn’t be expected to, know everything about everything in the way that Britain’s best-known secret service agent does.  Industry must support our educators in order to provide the insight that can help educate and excite youngsters about career options.

Sharing business expertise

Companies such as ourselves already engage with schools, after school clubs and other organisations to help educate children, where the teacher or group leader lacks the required depth of knowledge.  For the past two years Converged has helped local Cub Scouts gain their digital badges, as our staff have the expertise that the leaders do not. In the same way that those teachers and leaders have skills we don’t.

A change in mindset must also take place in secondary education to highlight the fact that not every job requires a university degree.  Many IT professionals, including our own managing director, do not have university qualifications and have built very successful careers in the sector.  The drive towards university education that has pervaded over recent years has created a disconnect between youngsters and some of our traditional and more modern trades.  It has also produced a time lag between children leaving school and entering the workplace full-time that has helped accelerate the skills gap.

University is not for everyone and that should not be forgotten.  Employers don’t always require staff to hold a university degree.  Rather it can be more important for people to be armed with passion, enthusiasm, problem solving, logic and social skills.

Don't fight it. Channel it.

If it feels like trench warfare is ensuing in your household over a child’s IT use, don’t fight it.  Instead look at how you can capture their interest in IT and channel it into a career. Who knows, with the right encouragement your little gaming addict might just be the next Mark Zuckerberg.

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