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We Must Teach Our Students to be Fluent in The Language of Tech

It's often said that the global business language is English and the business language of the future is Chinese. I don't think that's true. The business language of the future is tech and in this country, we are a long way from teaching our young people to be fluent. 

We all know about the shortage of tech skills in the UK. How could you not? Barely a day passes without a new report warning us about the danger of failing to close the digital skills gap. The government last year estimated that the shortfall costs the economy £63bn a year.  

It is an eye-watering amount. But are things getting better? At first, you might think so. Everyone knows we need to improve and there's so much talk about teaching STEM subjects. Surely we are closing the gap? 

Sadly, it seems the opposite is happening. One piece of research that recently caught my attention was Deloitte's Digital Disruption Index. The most shocking statistic was that just 12% of executives think school leavers and graduates have the right digital skills. The previous index, published six months earlier, had the figure at 20%. So when it comes to the perceived readiness of our young people to enter the digital workforce, we appear to be travelling rapidly in the wrong direction. 

Ultimately, we're now beyond the point where something has to be done. It's a critical state. The problem starts with the way young people are taught technology. There are about 40,000 unfilled tech jobs in Britain. We should be churning out brilliant graduates ready to take up these positions, but we're not. The irony at the heart of the education system is that the group of graduates least likely to find employment are those who have degrees in computer science and tech. 

The reason for this is simple. The skills students are learning on these courses are outdated by the time they come into the workplace. Think about it. Even if the course was written the day before the students start, it will still be three years out of date by the time they are ready to start work. The tech companies we talk to at Opus all say this. Sometimes they even have to teach new recruits to unlearn what they've been taught at university, so they can teach them again to their own standards.  

Evidently, the system is not working. And here we have a choice. We can keep playing the same song over and over again, or we can change it. There is a solution. We should be educating people not to pass exams but to give them skills for the real world that they will actually benefit from. It's an obvious thing to say, but that doesn't stop it being true. 

There is, I think, a way to solve the problem. The future of education should have business at the heart of it. I don't mean apprenticeships. I mean businesses taking a proactive role so they can find the people right for the jobs they need doing. Companies should be partnering with universities and giving students meaningful work to do.  

This has an upside for the business because they're getting cheap labour and it has an upside for the university because they have more employable graduates, which is often what they're judged on. Everyone wins. 

In part, the problem is the way people look at tech. Some people still see it as a career for maths geniuses who have been coding since they were seven. This is outdated. If you want to go into sport, or music, or fashion, tech skills give you a head start. Companies like Nike or Sony should be making that argument. 

I would go further still. You can do teacher training courses or a law conversion after a degree. I think we should be offering at the same level a tech conversion course. This is not necessarily for people who want to be heavy duty techies. It's for regular people who need to speak the tech language. 

We are trying to do our bit at Opus. Our _nology programme offers a tech career conversion to people from a wide range of backgrounds.  We have partnered with four of the Southwest's biggest universities - Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter - and we are trying to debunk some myths around tech.

The idea is to provide proper experience working on tech projects before candidates start work. It helps overcome employer fears about hiring people with "no real world experience" - something I hear all the time. They get coding, testing, user experience - all the basics. There is a chance to work with some of our big-name clients, including ASOS and Tommy Hilfiger. 

It is early days for _nology, but it is a step in the right direction. Whatever we do, it is critical we involve business in the future of our digital education. There's no use for a chief executive to sit there in their nest waiting for the perfect person to drop out of the sky to join the company. It does not happen like that. 

We can all sit around here crying, or we can actually do something about it. If it starts to happen now then the future looks bright - for businesses, for students - for everyone. 

If you're interested in becoming a part of the _nology movement, contact hello@nology.io

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