The week of the 18th September is National Coding Week. The initiative aims to inspire people to learn coding and other digital skills – particularly adults, who may not have received any coding skills whilst in full-time education. These skills are becoming essential in the modern workplace, but are increasingly in short supply. This skills shortage, combined with the potential for skills availability disruption after Brexit, means that businesses need to place more emphasis on digital skills development both inside and outside their organisations.
The coding skills gap
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) announced earlier this year that digital skills are becoming increasingly important to the operation of business, and yet the survey of more than 1,400 organisations across the UK found that more than 75 per cent are facing a shortage of digital skills in their workforce.
Jon Lucas, Director at Hyve Managed Hosting believes that coding and digital skills are vital to an enormous number of businesses, but he is aware that the skills shortage is already an issue. He explains, “This may become more acute if the EU candidate pool reduces as Brexit comes closer. We need to see more candidates with strong tech skills, from school leavers upwards and would be even more pleased to see these people emerge onto the local jobs market whenever possible.” Tom Harwood, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder at Aeriandi, agrees, stating that, “Businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on their developers, programmers and product managers.”
Lucas believes more students should be encouraged to consider a career in coding. He says, “Learning coding and digital skills can be the start of an exciting and fulfilling career, and anyone considering it as a career path should look at the huge range of options out there for them to succeed in a diverse and growing industry.” Harwood echoes this sentiment, and thinks that when it comes to education, more weight needs to be given to coding. He believes anyone can learn to code, and, “For small, high-growth technology companies, the right developers are worth their weight in gold!”
However, Alberta Bosco, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Puppet, understands that learning to code can be seen as a challenge. She sympathises that, “Learning the language of code can be intimidating with its seemingly random symbols, numbers and words. Yet in an increasingly digital era, coding skills will be more and more important and desirable for all types of businesses.”
Coding education and training
According to a recent report by O2, the UK will need to fill 750,000 new digital jobs by 2020, and train almost 2.3 million people to meet the demand for digital skills. Unlike other G20 countries, the number of computer science graduates has been falling considerably in the UK since 2002. Tony Glass, GM and VP EMEA at Skillsoft, believes that, “We need to start as early as possible when it comes to implementing training around vital skills like coding. To fulfil the requirement of workers with digital skills, input and co-operation will be required from the Government, schools, businesses and vendors to ensure that the workforce of tomorrow are being given the ability to learn the digital skills they need.” In order to identify and improve digital skills in the workplace, Glass argues that, “Organisations need to be looking at what digital skills they need, determining what capabilities their employees have and then providing training to fill any skills gaps that exist.”
Weeks such as National Coding Week contribute to the informal and formal ways that employers can provide training. There are a variety of different providers offering courses and training for coding. Glass explains that companies can introduce their own training facilities, for both employees and customers. He explains, “As well as helping employees develop coding skills, companies can also help their customers develop these key skills. At Skillsoft, we recently launched CodeX, a virtual coding practice lab for our customers. CodeX provides coding exercises with embedded video content that challenges software developers to learn, practice and perfect their coding skills hands-on in an integrated development environment. Learners can follow instructional videos while writing and compiling code. This is contextual learning at its best. Learners can practice coding in a seamless, integrated platform that provides a live working development environment and puts learning into context for a deeper experience.”
Bosco agrees that, “It is important that today’s businesses work to encourage young people in learning how to code – it is arguably just as important now as learning a foreign language. Translating code into a common and recognisable language is one approach to changing the perception of coding from complicated and off putting to understandable and interesting.”
Where are the coding skills?
Good coding skills are in short supply. The European Commission has warned that a lack of basic coding skills could result in Europe facing a shortage of up to 900,000 IT professionals by 2020. Programming is everywhere and fundamental to the understanding of a hyper-connected world.
Liam Butler, VP, Corporate Sales EMEA at SumTotal explains that by encouraging staff to develop their own skills, it is possible to generate all the talent an organisation needs. He says, “The future of business performance lies in building specialist skills, and the ever-increasing requirement for specialist digital skills like coding means that succession planning is becoming more important throughout an organisation. If the CEO is unavailable for one day, it’s unlikely the business will be seriously impacted – but if key product development processes are impacted, it can be a different matter.”
Rob Mellor, GM EMEA at WhereScape, has seen first hand how automation is enabling businesses to get things done quicker and with greater efficiency. From conversations with his customers, he knows that good coding skills will be an essential component of machine learning’s impact on the future of all kinds of organisations. His opinion is bold: “Machine learning is driving very real results in industries across the spectrum: medical, retail, manufacturing – and in job roles across the board: sales, marketing, HR, finance etc. I think you have two choices: to hide under a stone and watch the machines take over, or grasp the opportunity, learn to code and ride the wave of the technology revolution.”
Hubert Da Costa, VP EMEA at Cradlepoint, agrees with Mellor and Moore’s views. He believes that IT is evolving at an exponential rate, meaning the, “Autonomisation of everyday roles we take for granted today, from administration to driverless cars, will be here faster than we realise. It’s no wonder that jobs in computer science are growing faster than almost every other area; after all virtually every electronic device requires some sort of code to run it.” He believes, “The value of coding skills is only going to increase for business, so students should be training for these jobs now.”
It is important that businesses develop their workforce’s basic coding skills, but Stephen Moore, Chief Security Strategist at Exabeam, also believes that emphasis needs to be placed on teaching those just starting out in the world of software development about the importance of security in the development process. He says, “Today, most security flaws surface late in the development cycle and are often only discovered after the application has actually gone live. At this point, it could already be too late.” This is where corporate application security teams can play an important role by helping developers, at all stages of their careers find space for security testing in their busy workflows and help them take time out to improve their secure coding skills. He continues, “Developers often simply don’t understand the threats that their applications face and therefore don’t realise that their code is causing security issues.”
The existing barriers between security and development teams must be lowered if this situation is to improve. Moore continues, “Thankfully, this is already happening as part of the wider adoption of DevOps cultures, where application security capability is being placed within each development team. This is helping to make security a more holistic part of the development process; placing both tools and education in the hands of the developers so everyone understands that quality code is secure code.”
The importance of succession planning
Of course, when a business does take on coding talent, it needs to ensure these skilled employees are retained. Succession planning needs to be re-evaluated as developers and programmers require specific technical skills, meaning that contingency plans need to be put in place to mitigate the risk of untimely departures of these crucial members of the workforce. Butler adds that the uncertainties of Brexit will mean that organisations need to know which coding skills their developers have to be able to see what skills may be needed, and what is lacking. He explains, “Clear career paths are a good way to strengthen employee retention, and highlighting what new skills the business needs can also be a good motivator for existing employees to engage with training programmes.”
While initiatives like National Coding week are going a long way to highlighting the importance of these skills, it is clear more emphasis needs to be placed on coding and digital skills in the workforce. Moore affirms that, “National Coding Week is the perfect time for security and development teams to come together to remind each other, and those new to each industry, of the mutual benefits of building-in security, rather than leaving it as an after-thought." Skills such as these need to be brought to the forefront of both education and workplace skills development if we are to address the skills gap in the UK.
Jon Lucas, Director at Hyve Managed Hosting
Tony Glass, GM and VP EMEA at Skillsoft
Liam Butler, VP, Corporate Sales EMEA at SumTotal
Stephen Moore, Chief Security Strategist at Exabeam
Tom Harwood, Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder at Aeriandi
Hubert Da Costa, VP EMEA at Cradlepoint
Alberta Bosco, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Puppet
Rob Mellor, GM EMEA at WhereScape
Image Credit: Coffee / Pixabay