Supply of computer science skills still isn’t meeting demand for ‘swelling tech sector’

tech

More than four in every 100 advertised jobs in the UK require computer science skills, but experts warn that supply is currently failing to meet demand in this surging sector and there are still not enough young adults choosing this as a career at school or university.

The new ‘computer science in the classroom’ report by OKdo, the global technology company from Electrocomponents plc, highlights that while progress has been made in the last decade to engage students this subject at school, more work is needed to ensure the thriving tech sector can continue to grow in the UK.

Through analysis of GCSE results data from the Joint Council for Qualifications, OKdo discovered that the number of students taking the Computer Science course in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has steadily increased since it was launched: 16,773 sat the examinations and were awarded a grade in 2014 versus 78,459 in 2020 (up 367%).

It is also a subject that continues to be dominated by male students, despite female students typically achieving higher grades. Three times as many young men (61,520) sat the course in 2020 than young women (16,919) with 32% of the male students being awarded a grade 7 or above – equivalent to an A or A* in the previous grading system. In comparison, 41% of the female students were awarded a grade of 7+.

This pattern of high performance amongst female students has been consistent since 2014 and is reflected across other STEM subjects too: in the last decade, the only STEM subject where more male students have consistently earned higher GCSE grades was Mathematics.

Regionally, Ofqual data revealed that the highest number of Computer Science students have been based in Greater London, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and West Yorkshire.

Looking at undergraduate UCAS accepted applications for Computer Science courses, OKdo also saw that this figure has continued to rise over time – from 13,405 in 2011 to 20,035 in 2020 (up 49%). However, again there are still very few female students – just 3,200 in 2020 – and overall, just 4.14% of all accepted applications were for computer science courses.

Looking at the future prospects of those considering a career in computer science, there are currently more than 40,000 jobs across the UK that require relevant skills and qualifications – representing 4.21% of all ‘open’ roles (956,049). The majority of these are based in the South East and London.

According to jobs data from Adzuna, the number of advertised roles did drop at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but this is already back up to pre-Covid levels and in some instances, recruitment is at near-record level.

Salary prospects are also good – the current average salary of a graduate software engineer is £48,787 – over £20k more than a marketing graduate (£26,454), Paralegal (£22,803) or teaching assistant (£19,802). Across the ten most common computer science careers, the average salary was £42,023, while the average salary for advertised roles in the UK currently stands at £35,444.

Salaries in the ten most common computer sciences careers have been consistently above the UK average since 2014.

But a high salary alone may not be enough to tempt female talent. In a recent Kaspersky report on Women in Tech, 42% of women said that better marketing on the positive impacts that IT or technical skills can have within society was the most important measure to attract them into the industry. Just one in three (33%) women in a tech role were encouraged to learn IT skills at their school, college, or university.

Andrew Hunter, Co-Founder of job search engine Adzuna, comments: “The last few months have seen a surge in hiring for Tech and Digital roles, with the sector taking on staff at near-record volumes. Software Developers are in particular demand, accounting for over 1 in 100 of all the job ads currently on offer within the UK. There are also over five thousand Web Designer and Data Analyst roles lying open. The tough ask for employers is finding the skilled talent to meet this growing need. We urgently need to focus on upskilling and retraining the workforce into Computer Science-related roles to serve the swelling Tech sector and support even more future job creation.”

Julia Adamson, Director of Education at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, said: “Computing provides great career opportunities to young people. We’ve seen increasing numbers studying it; including a 400% increase in students choosing AI degrees, as well as more teachers developing the subject knowledge and expertise to deliver an inspiring curriculum thanks to the support of the National Centre for Computing Education, launched in 2018. Great progress has been made, but more needs to be done, especially to encourage more girls and those from under-represented groups”

Nicki Young, President of OKdo added: “Our research highlights just how important it is that the number of students studying computer science at GCSE and beyond – and choosing this as a career – continues to gain momentum. The tech industry has been reliably growing, and there is high demand for talented people with this specific skillset.

“I hold a computer science degree and know from experience that even at an entry level, those coming into computer science roles are required to have a solid foundation of knowledge and expertise that is typically acquired through education. This in turn is reflected in the high entry level salaries. Getting more young students engaged in this subject early on will be key to enabling this industry’s continued growth, alongside the retraining of people looking for a fresh challenge in a thriving sector.

“Progress has been made, but there is more work to do to really engage the tech talent of tomorrow. A Data Analyst, a Software Developer, a Web Designer – these should be aspired careers. This is particularly important amongst female students who are still studying STEM subjects in low numbers but have proven themselves to be highly capable; typically achieving higher grades than male students. I have led a large technology outfit with 100s of members, as a result I have been fortunate to have worked with some incredible women in tech, but there are still too few, and it is something I have always been passionate about addressing. We all have a responsibility to do more to showcase role model women in Technology, and all areas of STEM, to inspire the next generation.”

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