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The technical skills gap, and what Apadmi is doing about it

Mar 27, 2017 - Blog

The UK’s technology sector has a huge problem at the moment. There’s a massive shortage of people with the technical skills to fill roles that businesses up and down the country are screaming out for.

Due to the lack of qualified people to fill these roles from the UK, businesses across the land are looking further afield to try and obtain skilled employees to help drive their own businesses forward.

However, Brexit has only helped to enhance the problem with the free movement of people from within the EU looking to end in the next couple of years as the UK tightens up its borders.

The inevitable result for businesses across the UK? There will be an even smaller pool of talented people to choose from to fill the roles they’re already struggling to recruit for.

What is Apadmi doing about it?

What can we do about this as a company working in the mobile technology industry I hear you ask. Well, we’ve been saying that the UK needs to invest in better education for a while now, so decided to do something about it.

Earlier this month, we spent the day at Park View Community School in Manchester, with the aim of helping 10 and 11-year olds to become interested, and hopefully excited, about mobile, apps, and technology in general.

The reason for this is simple. Kids in primary schools today need to get excited about technology. They need to develop an appetite for coding, design, back-end IT infrastructure and cloud-based solutions.

Well maybe not the last two at this age, but the point remains that the children at school now should be encouraged to learn HTML, CSS, JAVA, Objective-C and SWIFT with the same gusto as our teachers use when promoting the importance of French, German and Spanish.

It’s not a difficult case to make that the tech languages above will most likely serve the careers of today’s 10 and 11-year olds better than that of a secondary spoken language.

What’s more, these skills will help to drive the UK’s economy forward faster and stronger, helping to create jobs, opportunities and a better standard of living for the entire nation.

The lesson plan

So, back to the task at hand – what were we expecting of the day? Well, to be blunt, we had no idea. We had prepared a selection of slides focused on showing the children a timeline of the history of phones, and the apps that run on them. After all, these children had only just been born when the first iPhone was released. They’ve grown up with apps already part of everyday life.

But do they know the fundamentals about how apps are created and what goes into making one. Cue our designer, Matt, to introduce them to the basics of UI and UX. “Imagine being sat on a concrete block because you’re tired. It does the job, but it’s not that comfortable. Now imagine sitting on a chair. Better, right? Well, what if you could be sat on a couch with your feet up? That’s UX. All three do the job of helping you rest. Only the last one is truly enjoyable though.”

UX-Apadmi

Following this, we journeyed through key people in technology. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak got the usual coverage as Park Hill Community School is an Apple school – there are Macs in all classrooms and the computer rooms are full of Apple hardware and software.

But then we moved onto the women in technology and asked the children a simple question: why are there less women in technology than men? No one could answer it.

Matt asked, “are science and maths only for boys? Do girls not like playing on computers, tablets or phones?” A resounding “no!” was swiftly shot back at him. Great news.

The next slide showed a photo of Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! CEO, on a stage. “Anyone know who this lady is?” The room was quiet. “She’s the boss of one of the biggest technology companies in the world… and she’s worth $300m.” Next up was Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, worth $1.37b. Then Meg Whitman, HP CEO, worth $2.3b.

And this is part of the process to help the girls in the class know that 1) technology is an exciting industry to work in, and 2) it pays well. It’s not just for the boys.

The final part of the lessons involved a group activity where the kids would be drawing out on paper some wireframes of apps they would like to develop to help their everyday lives. Some of the apps they’d like to create involved solutions to help them with their homework, first aid, car sharing, weight management and nutrition, and even help for children with depression who needed someone to talk to.

So what did we learn?

What we weren’t expecting was the level of knowledge that today’s 10 and 11-year olds have on mobile technology.

Around 80% of the students in both of the two classes we spoke to had smartphones of their own at home that they use every day.

In a short quiz on ‘name the app’, almost every student in the room got the answer right within a second or two of the app icon being shown on the huge projected screen at the front of the classroom. Netflix: check. Angry Birds: check. WhatsApp: check. Temple Run: check. There was only one app icon on display to cause a slight hesitation; only after one child shouted out “Pac-Man” did another confidently correct them, “it’s Uber”.

When asked about the future of technology and what they think is in store for new technology over the next five years, responses included “VR headsets”, “holograms”, “apps connected to cars”, “interactive stuff, like whiteboards and clocks”, and probably the best of the lot; “connecting your phone to your mind”.

And then came a question which seemed to bring home the whole purpose of us being at the school: “How do people get so good to make things like [Amazon] Alexa?”

We were a bit taken aback by the question. These are 10-year old children. They’re already well aware of artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of Alexa, even if they don’t know it’s called AI. But the thought has been planted already. The kids want to learn how to create these wonderful tools themselves. The inquisition is there, and it’s already coming through. Yet it appears that they don’t have the knowledge to act on this though.

The schools are doing as much as they can, but they themselves do not have the technical knowledge and expertise to educate in these areas. That’s why we were there in the first place.

If we want the next Google, Facebook or Amazon to come out of the UK, then we need to start introducing HTML, CSS, Java, Objective-C, SWIFT, and all the other coding languages to the curriculum that teachers are working from right now.

But even before that, let’s get kids excited about technology. If they want to learn more, they will. They have more resources available to them than any other generation before them, precisely because of improvements in technology over the last 20 years.

As we left, we overheard two children talking to each other as they were heading out to meet their parents at the end of the day. “I want to be a designer when I grow up”. “Well, I want to be a coder when I grow up”. Mission accomplished.

Are you a teacher? Get in touch

We’re keen on helping to do what we can to educate children at all levels of schooling throughout the UK. If you’re a teacher and interested in developing the technical skills amongst the children in your school, please get in touch.