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40% drop in British students leaving school with an IT qualification will exacerbate future digital skills gap, warns EDT and RSA®

Data from Ofqual shows a steep decline in GCSE and A-level students studying ICT or Computing qualifications, down by 40% between 2015 – 2020[1]. Education charity Engineering Development Trust (EDT) and global cybersecurity leader RSA Security warn that if this downward trend continues, the UK IT industry and wider economy will suffer. Not only will it exacerbate the digital skills gap facing UK businesses, young people will also be leaving education without the IT knowledge and skills needed to thrive in our increasingly digital society.

“Simply put, every student that chooses a different subject instead of IT represents a missed opportunity to develop the skills that will be essential to the UK’s success as a digital powerhouse,” comments Julie Feest, CEO of EDT. “The new Computing GCSE highlights this; while brilliant for young people who may have an interest in more technical programming and coding, it does not provide a grounding knowledge of the digital world. Students receive their qualification without being taught about essential topics like cybersecurity, digital ethics, fake news or social media – all of which are becoming more prevalent in society.”

Feest continues: “While it is the government’s responsibility to ensure the curriculum is fit for purpose, charities play an essential role in supplementing and improving this with initiatives that enthuse young people. Similarly, we urge employers to get involved to show young people what a career in tech has to offer. A concerted effort from government, educational charities like ours, and the industry will help to avoid a worsening of the UK’s digital skills gap.”

In 2019, RSA Security partnered with EDT to host the RSA Digital Risk Management Competition in secondary schools in the Thames Valley. This was designed to highlight the importance of developing knowledge around digital risk and promote cybersecurity as a future career choice for young people.

“I strongly believe that as employers, we have a responsibility to help support the good work charities like EDT do to combat skill deficiencies, especially as their job has become much harder in recent months. The best way we can get young people thinking about the future is to get involved and show them what’s on offer. The IT industry is diverse, with a breadth of different careers and so the ways in which we teach young people IT skills need to be just as varied. There’s not just one type of job, or one type of person we’re looking for,” said Chris Miller, Regional Director – UK & Ireland at RSA Security.

Miller continues: “Cybersecurity is one area of IT that has always suffered skills issues, in fact 48% of UK businesses currently struggle with a cyber skills gap. There’s much for businesses to gain from getting involved in local initiatives that improve cybersecurity awareness in young people – from helping cut training costs in the future to educate staff about cyber-attacks, to eventually growing the cybersecurity workforce.”

Feest adds: “COVID-19 has made it harder for educational charities to maintain and build relationships with young people, but it’s an opportunity to show that we can be resilient to disruption. EDT has moved online; where we used to take employers with us to schools to deliver sessions or provide residential courses, we now do so digitally. Our partnerships with employers have always been important, but they are now more essential than ever if we are to continue delivering innovative training and opportunities in IT beyond the curriculum. So, if you feel a sense of responsibility to enthuse young people and tackle the digital skills gap, get in touch with educational charities and find out how you can get involved,” said Feest.

[1] In 2015, 144,635 students studied some form of IT/Computing qualification at GCSE or A-Level, but in 2020 that figure has dropped to 87,335. After the compulsory ICT GCSE qualification was discontinued in 2015, a new Computing qualification was then introduced, but was not made compulsory.

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