Bridging the skills gap between university and industry

Join Adam for a discussion with key experts from across academia and industry:

  • Nikki Danino, Academic Lead for Computer Science at UClan
  • Professor Victoria Baines, Gresham University
  • Jon O’Brien, Director of Consulting at Crossword Cybersecurity
  • Julia Adamson, BCS Director of Education
  • Josh Yeoman, president of the computing company at Royal Holloway University

The roundtable examined many key questions, including: What skills do employers need that appear to be in short supply in the graduate talent pool? What are the challenges of lecturers in transferring these skills, and what is the point of view of the graduates? We break down the issues and share them…

We need more honest and open communication

The discussion around transferable skills has mainly focused on communication. It is critical that we have industry professionals who can communicate highly technical information in a way that is understood by non-technical peers, John from Crossword called this ‘recipient design’ and stated that it is ‘rarely in demand’. The amount of terms and acronyms of experts in technology is so high and it is important to remember that your audience may not know what it means – critical decision makers need to have a clear understanding of what is being communicated.

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Our alumni panellist, Josh, highlighted that this is not a skill that is currently being nurtured at university, and he would have found it helpful to have some support for this skill. There is a misconception in the industry that you only need excellent communication skills when you take on certain roles, for example managing people, but this is not the case.

draws talent from a wider pool

The industry requires a large and diverse pool of talent. More women are choosing computer science degrees than ever before, but there are still challenges with retaining talent in the industry. Julia claimed that apparently 97% of women drop out of a computer based subject during their GCSEs. Nikki emphasized that one of the only reasons she felt comfortable taking computing forward was because she attended an all-girls school, so she didn’t grow up with the number of boys in her class. She also noted that the women in the industry are often “role models” and are tasked with doing a lot of advocacy work. In fact, it puts pressure on women to promote inclusion because there aren’t enough of them in a demanding industry.

So how do you increase the talent pool?

There was a proposal to create technology conversion courses, similar to the existing law conversion option. Programs with this premise are already happening with some employers, including Crossword, where an employer will take on people who demonstrate transferable skills needed in the industry, but have no formal technology experience or qualifications. They then provide training on technical skills in areas such as cyber security. It has been noted that programs such as these are resource intensive and often only larger organizations can afford to run such programs.

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Graduates in fields outside of computer science have been rejected from careers in cyber even though there are so many skills applicable to technology such as decoding and frameworks, problem solving and so on. Demand for talent in the tech industry is so high that to close the skills gap we must do more to recognize related skills.

Can we learn from the US honors degree system?

There was some discussion around the US system of majors and minors at the degree level, someone might major in an arts based subject but major in computing. It gives people some basic skills and knowledge and can open the door to tech careers down the line. It was recognized that the problem is that computing is an incremental skill and takes a lot of dedicated time to learn. As another option it is difficult and people tend to give up on it.

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The panel also commented that there are many non-technical roles in the industry – for example governance, risk and compliance roles do not necessarily require deep technical knowledge – there are plenty of opportunities for people without technical skills. Business schools cover some of these topics, but more needs to be done to raise awareness of these roles.

There continue to be misconceptions about what a career in technology looks like. As a subject in itself, it can be said that we remove computing from all the things it is used in. In reality, there is really no such thing as ‘pure computer science’, computing is in everything and has become. Everywhere in society in every aspect of life. When choosing roles that people are more likely to be driven by human connection and influence – the industry could do a better job of showing how computing plays a part in that.

Expanding the support structure

Schools, universities and employers can support each other more in developing skills and talents.



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