back to article The kids aren't all right: Fall in GCSE compsci students is bad news for employers and Britain's future growth plans

Think tank WorldSkills UK has claimed Britain is facing a digital skills shortage as fewer young people opt to study IT-related subjects at GCSE and A Level. The report [PDF] highlighted a steady decline in the number of Computing and IT students at GCSE level since 2015, falling 40 per cent from a peak of 147,000 to just 88, …

  1. Eek

    this one is an easy answer

    The old course was an easy pass for students as it was mainly coursework.

    The new one has some coursework but the vast majority of it is an exam at the end.

    And for those who took it in the early years - a lot of students where were expected to do well did badly because of the exams.

    Hence schools now steer students in a different direction.

    1. minnsey231

      Re: this one is an easy answer

      If it is the same Exam board as the one my son is doing there is 'Course Work', a project to build a thing, but it makes no contribution to the final mark so it is kind of pointless.

      Seems an unfortunate knock-on from the push to ditch coursework in favour of 100% exams in everything.

      1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

        Re: makes no contribution to the final mark so it is kind of pointless.

        Such a judgement might depend on whether you thought the goal was actually to learn, or merely to pass exams ...

        .

        ...although of course in practice the two are linked.

    2. Phones Sheridan

      Re: this one is an easy answer

      I think it's more to do with the fact that computers are now considered a commodity so interest is waning. No one want's to study other white goods such as fridges, microwaves and washing machines so why study that device every home has so many of.

      When I was younger computers were rare, that was the appeal, if you studied it you got to play with one and it was fascinating (at least to me).

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In other words Office 365 is not the same as Python or C++

    Now could someone tell my project manager this?

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: In other words Office 365 is not the same as Python or C++

      I know what you mean. Back in the 1980s when I was a Pascal and C programmer at a small software house, I had to carefully explain to a member of staff that using a wordprocessor to type letters and documents was NOT programming, despite what she claimed!

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: In other words Office 365 is not the same as Python or C++

        My bugbear is surveys that count HTML as a "programming language". Mind you, I think CSS is getting near to Turing complete, if it isn't already.

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: In other words Office 365 is not the same as Python or C++

      Now could someone tell my project manager this?

      Probably not without the +5 enchanted Cattle Prod of Enlightenment.

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: In other words Office 365 is not the same as Python or C++

        ...with the leather handle and custom knurling?

        Oohhhhhhh. Yeah baby!

  3. Binraider Bronze badge

    Service industries want drones that can drive their web apps made offshore; so the primary skills they demand are keyboard, mouse, word processing and maybe a spreadsheet or little databasing. GCSE-level basic office stuff - fine, everyone needs that. Basic compsci/programming? That's little more than a bit of fun, if it's your definition of fun. It was for me, and I didn't need no stinking school to teach it. Typing in programs from the ZX Spectrum+ user manual...

    Kids aren't dumb (mostly); and IT-specific jobs in the UK are relatively poorly paid unless you get to the top. In which case, the most useful skills are in sales and marketing, not CompSci. Not like the good old days when an Oracle "consultant" could cobble together any old database for 100k/year. Those days aren't coming back, thanks to offshore competition taking over that work; unless companies wake up to the terrible deal they are dealt over and over with the hidden ongoing costs that hiring one of the usual consultancies incurs.

    So why would you pick a course that's relatively hard and has little to zero prospects without doing a higher level course. Ultimately, your time is probably more valuable learning maths and science with a later view to specialising in CompSci if that's your thing at KS4+. You don't need CompSci GSCE to move to A-level or a degree.

    I made the mistake of doing far too many GCSEs (13!) the result of which was dilution and disinterest. Fewer, but well taught general skills leading to specialisations at high levels is what I'd recommend to anyone today. No reasons that a Maths course shouldn't contain simple programming for example.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Blah blah offshoring

      Offshoring is competition in lots of business areas - that's why it's called business process outsourcing. It's not the end of the world and you can compete.

      But software development - why wouldn't you? With zero raw materials other than a computer you can, at your own pace and at a location of your choosing, build products which can be sold worldwide. You can be your own boss! The only other field I can think of that offers this is being an author, and there are a lot of similarities. But think. Don't do shitty webapps at £50/pop, someone in India can do that cheaper.

      Find an itch, scratch it. If enough other people have that itch, you can commercialise it. Open source if you want but make damn sure you can charge businesses for what you do. It's a big help if you can find an area that is deeply unsexy but widely used. Forget trendy webapps - you want to be doing something with email - remember email? - or making pretty webpages from Excel spreadsheets. That sort of thing. But make something. Sell a product, not a service, because you can sell a product more than once.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Blah blah offshoring

        Another great advantage is that once you've made your thing,

        You dont have to make more of them sell to each customer! brilliant!

        Take that Henry Ford!

        ...another similarity to being an author, which is probably the only other trade with that perk.

        1. DJV Silver badge

          "another similarity to being an author"

          Indeed, they are very close (I should know as I do both). However, upgrading a paperback book to a new version because of a missed typo isn't quite as easy for the end user as downloading an update for a software program. E-books are definitely a closer match, though.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Meh

        Re: Blah blah offshoring

        Find an itch, scratch it. If enough other people have that itch, you can commercialise it.

        And that, of course, is the hard part.

        What you probably meant to say is that if enough people have that itch, and are willing to pay an economic amount for it to be scratched, and there is not another fifty products out there that do that already, then you might be able to commercialise it.

        Generally speaking, if no-one is making money out of it already, there may be a reason other than no-one has thought of it.

      3. Binraider Bronze badge

        Re: Blah blah offshoring

        On the subject of being your own boss, no denying these are valuable skills. Learn an appropriate programming language and API(s). Learn about UI design. Algorithms and marketing skills. Collaboration tools like git. There's no denying these are valuable skills. They are, also, mostly ones you have to get up and learn off your own back.

        I need only point at the bedroom programmers of the 80's that as far as formal education were concerned, maybe you had exposure to BASIC on a BBC Micro; or perhaps a RM Nimbus with a copy of MS Works for DOS. Those guys that were writing commercial games by 16 - busy hacking Z80 or 6502 assembler at home every night. The latter required motivation and self interest to get involved (and access to the right resources - the internet makes it rather easier). A GCSE course cannot by definition focus in on a particular skill set so closely - if it did, it would cease to be GCSE.

        A course could try following the tutorials for Unity - or something like that - to bring it up to date. And again, this really isn't GCSE material! (Nor should it be!)

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Blah blah offshoring

        "Sell a product, not a service"

        Not least because selling an IT service nowadays, at least whilst being your own boss, is regarded by HMRC as tax evasion.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @AC - Re: Blah blah offshoring

        Actually, sell a service not a product. By doing this, you make people pay over and over for the same product. Less work, more money. Don't take my word, just take a look around you at the trendy Everything as a Service.

        Oh, and it's not an itch you must look for, go for a customer lock-in instead. Microsoft is never looking for new clients, the clients are chasing them.

      6. JohnG

        Re: Blah blah offshoring

        "But software development - why wouldn't you?"

        In the UK, there are other career paths that offer more money and faster/higher progression.

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Blah blah offshoring

        Having worked in the computer industry since 1967, I would NOT recommend a youngster going down that route as there is a grave danger that they will get a great job with a company who either:

        - decide to outsource everything to an Indian company who then sack everyone they took on. (eg: Wipro)

        or:

        - they ARE an outsourcing company who treat employees like cannon fodder (eg: Logica)

        or:

        - you join a computer company who gets taken over by another and you end up "not fitting in"

        or:

        - you work for IBM (don't even go there!)

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      "You don't need CompSci GSCE to move to A-level or a degree."

      It might be useful to figure out if thats the sort of thing you want to do though

      1. tfb Silver badge
        Boffin

        It might be, but often it isn't, even in other subjects. When I started my physics degree it was a pretty serious shock after A level. Fortunately I was in fact good at it (well, probably I should have done maths), but I've watched someone else go through an equivalent transition for maths, only to discover that they really were not cut out for it at all.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Maths is something I'm not cut out for, but I have to do it.

          It's practice, practice and more practice for me. I am so jealous of people with maths aptitude who do it easily. Maths is much like learning a language, or learning to play a musical instrument (minus the motor skills part). It is enormous in breadth and depth and ultimately very satisfying to get the hang of.

          Comp Sci will attract a certain type of person and there are less of those than might want an IT GCSE.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            One of the problems with maths - to some extent with all subjects but more, I think with maths than most - is that teachers (hopefully) have an aptitude for their subject and find it difficult to comprehend that those who don't are actually having trouble with the subject and aren't just being lazy or deliberately obstructive.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Yes, well known problem, it’s called “the curse of knowledge”.

              The further into maths you go, the more it depends on understanding other parts of it. It builds on itself.

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Agreed. If a youngster wants to learn how to program, he doesn't need a teacher. I learned on my own with BASICA last millenium, then transitioned to Turbo Pascal before getting any "official" courses.

      And those were the days before the Internet and YouTube. Today, any beginner can find a wealth of courses and tips on YouTube, plus there are many sites that offer free introductory courses for HTML, CSS, VBA and more. If they want to learn, they can.

      What school needs to teach them is project management, code commenting and documentation. Some people skills would not be wasted either.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        "plus there are many sites that offer free introductory courses for HTML, CSS, VBA and more."

        None of which is programming, that's document markup. "I've selected some text and clicked BOLD, Hey! I'm programming!"

        It's easy to learn automotive engineering, there's a driving school in every town.

    4. werdsmith Silver badge

      I'm an author and I do a bit of coding. The coding goes off into some other system and is never heard of again unless its causing some kind of trouble or is suspected of it.

      But the author thing, you'll be surprised how much the success depends on promotion and getting it noticed, travelling round and appearing to do talks and signing sessions. Social media increasingly (ugh). These things are as much of the workload as the writing.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'd argue a couple of points with this article:

      1. CompSci isn't what it was when I studied it 30 years ago, yet I haven't really needed anything from it. If you have that underlying interest in programming it will likely serve you better than a watered down course.

      2. Whilst there can be very good money in what I refer to as technical programming (knowledge of the IT more than the domain) the main money, from my experience, is by being able to apply your IT/programming knowledge to the domain. For instance, whilst financial institutions do require some hardcore techies there seems to be more need and more cash in being the person that understands the domain. After all pure technical knowledge can be outsourced to low wage countries but the domain knowledge has always proved more difficult.

      3. Programmers who have studied other subjects don't seem to be any worse off than those who studied CompSci when it comes to producing the goods. I know of people who have studied Economics, Maths, Physics, and even History who are way better than those that studied COmpSci at degree level. Aptitude doesn't care about the certificates you hold.

    6. ecofeco Silver badge

      This is the short of it. I.T. no longer pays like it used to nor has the job security either. So why bother? More money to be made in the trades these days. And offshoring to India really screwed everyone, including the Indians.

  4. b0llchit Silver badge
    FAIL

    Teaching principle versus implementation

    The biggest problem in education is the lack of focus on the generic nature of the computer. It is a tool.There are few simple principles and models how modern computing works and how we use it. And, that is independent of the actual program used. However, most of the teaching is focused on very specific (and often outdated) programs and systems. Instead we should be teaching the program-independent skills

    Imagine a Math-class that will only teach the addition of two numbers, when those numbers are odd. Here we have learned(*) to teach the idea and principle behind the addition, such that you can plug in any number and arrive at the correct result. I don't care which word-processor you use. They all have some basic principles they adhere to. Yes, there are advantages and drawbacks for each. I don't care which programming language(**) you use. It does not matter what you use when you know how things work (to the extend of the educational level). When you know the principle, then you can cope with the continual and fast changes in the IT sector without much of a problem.

    (*) At least, we used to have learned to teach generic math. But it seems to be too much an effort for most in these days.

    (**) For a very broad definition of "programming language".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Teaching principle versus implementation

      This is a microcosm of the problems with education: They teach children to pass an exam, not to learn.

      My partner used to be a teacher and her pay was directly related to the exam results of her students. So she had to prioritize the "passing the exam" rather than "educating"

      The NHS is another excellent example of targets causing the institutions to miss the point.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Teaching principle versus implementation

        As I've said here before, it's the lure of numbers. Given some aspect of a process that can be easily quantified manglement will latch onto it as something to optimise regardless of its relevance. That applies in any field.

      2. Imhotep Silver badge

        Re: Teaching principle versus implementation

        The exams in US schools are multiple choice, typically from four answers. At least two of those answers are generally obviously wrong.

        But the teachers don't have to prepare a test or evaluate answers, so at least someone benefits.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Teaching principle versus implementation

          You may also find that if you read the question carefully you can pick the right one of the two remaining (even without familiarity with the subject).

          With some courses I have passed the end of course test without doing the course.

      3. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

        Re: Teaching principle versus implementation

        Target culture is bad. But then, a culture of "it doesn't matter as log as I get paid" isn't good either.

        In both organisations, targets were introduced in a vain attempt to jolt the organisations' priorities towards achieving the desired aims, not just to have a nice career structure for the employees. Without targets an league tables, hospitals were getting away with some of them having out-of-line survivability rates for certain surgeries, and some schools that seem to have given up on the aspirations of their pupils.

    2. Julz Silver badge

      Re: Teaching principle versus implementation

      I came to make a similar point.

      To quote from the article; "You look at some of those qualifications, they haven't been updated for eight years, and tech's moving on rapidly." Bollocks. The basic principals on which the broad topic of IT and it's associated products and services are based haven't changed much in decades. What dose change rapidly is the next great thing in programming languages or development processes or whatever.

      What seems to be wanted by those who complain, are candidates who have been trained to use the latest and greatest new widget thingamajig tool so that the cost of training is pasted onto the state. In my opinion, this is not a cost that is reasonable for the state to pick up.

      Anyway, I would much rather employ people with a good grounding in basic principals that can be trained on the specifics rather that a person who only knows how to use x, y and z and hasn't a clue about the fundamentals upon which the tools are based.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: Teaching principle versus implementation

        "candidates who have been trained to use the latest and greatest new widget thingamajig tool"

        They're officially called "oven ready employees" - for real. I'm not making this up!.

      2. Mark 65

        Re: Teaching principle versus implementation

        I find that a compounding issue is lazy recruitment. People who want 5 year of X, 4 of Y.....when you should be looking at the aptitude of the individual to solve the problems they will be faced with.

        It always annoyed me as I struggled to meet the recruitment criteria and yet outperformed those around me when it came to doing the job.

        I guess you're always going to get lazy hiring when HR outsource the placing of an advert to recruitment agents for a 10-20% fee.

  5. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Reasons for the fall in GCSE compsci students?

    Not a bit surprised school level "Comp Sci" take-up is declining . It's quite rightly got a bad name. As taught, it's superficial and uninteresting in addition to which it doesn't really equip anyone to do anything useful in the real world. Like the majority of mainstream education, it's essentially just a sausage machine stuffing in a bunch of factoids to be regurgitated at exam time. Understanding is not expected or required.

    As an example of how seriously the benefit to pupils is taken, a highly experienced IT colleague who trained to teach "Comp Sci" was sent out as part of his training to "teach" things he'd read up for the first time the previous evening. Not surprisingly, he quit.

  6. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
    Facepalm

    and focused primarily on Office-related skills rather than those most useful for a job in tech, such as programming.

    so there wasnt a "computer studies" GCSE ???

    just a "how to use Microsoft Office in your non IT related job" class ?

    People still dont seem to have grasped the difference between programming a computer and using a computer - and the fact that using a computer is something eveyone should learn how to do, like driving a car.

    with 92 per cent of employers surveyed placing an importance on "a basic level of digital skills," and 80 per cent of employers having roles that require "advanced digital skills".

    Again - worthless survey as thay have not made the programming/using distinction and the question the employers have ended up answering is "do you need your employees to know how to use microsoft office"

    and apparently 92% do , with 80% requiring them to know how to do additional hacking like "sending an email" or "doing a pivot table in excel"

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Yeah, the BBC article on this was bemoaning the lack of digital skills.. like using Excel.

      That's.. not a digital skill. That's a basic computer use skill. Children should leave primary school with rudimentary Excel skills.

      GCSEs in 'design and technology' teach children how to build tables, not wait on them. Why are digital skills GCSEs so different?

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Standards and expectations

        The Disconnected?:Career aspirations and jobs in the UK report by WorldSkills UK, the Learning and Work Institute and Enginuity sums this problem up very well. With all that expertise behind it, it nevertheless defines "advanced digital skills" as "a good knowledge across a range of digital skills, as well as in-depth specialist knowledge in one or more area, such as computer aided design, coding, specialist digital software etc" - three completely disparate if vaguely expressed disciplines with potentially quite different skill requirements. I particularly like the "etc" catchall at the end.

        Of course this isn't presented as their own definition - it's supposedly drawn from What digital skills do adults need to succeed in the workplace now and in the next 10 years? a 2018 report by Dr Erika Kispeter for the Warwick Institute.

        Hilariously, the authors of Disconnected? can't even spell her name properly - they reference her report as "Kipster 2018".

      2. Binraider Bronze badge

        I very clearly remember plotting graphs on a BBC Micro with some widget from the Computer Literacy Project. Very definitely "basic" use of "excel" from long before Excel was a thing.

    2. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

      I have maintained for decades that nearly anyone can learn to program. However, there is a vast gulf between knowing how to program and being able to hold down a job as a programmer.

      The rudiments are useful pretty much across the board. Those who actually enjoy programming and show an aptitude for it can move on to make a living at it.

  7. Dinanziame Silver badge

    Have they considered paying more for IT?

    I truly don't understand why IT salaries are so low in UK compared to other countries

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

      Because IT isn't management.

      1. Dinanziame Silver badge

        Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

        Presumably that applies to other countries as well, yet IT jobs have higher salaries there.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

          Because those countries don't have the baggage of our class system, a technical person no matter how well qualified will always be viewed as lower status than a manager, no matter how poorly qualified. So in most organisations that caps the salary and authority of the highest programmer below that of the lowest manager.

          Combine that with the ageism and the ever present risk of outsourcing and offshoring it's no wonder that young people smart enough to do the job are smart enough to realise there are better career options.

    2. minnsey231

      Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

      Work remotely from the UK for a Global company? That potentially offers better salaries and the option to move overseas at some point with the company.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

        While that might sound attractive, many people who worked for global companies such as IBM found that it was their job which moved overseas, not them. Be careful what you wish for...

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

          My IT salary in the UK is an issue for the business.

          Because they can recruit three of me in our other location in another country for the same amount.

          Increasingly work is going there.

          Fortunately they over there often need me over here.

    3. J27 Silver badge

      Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

      I don't either. I live in Canada, which is not renowned for high IT salaries and my cousin's husband who lives in London was making only about 70% what I was for the same job as a Senior Software Developer with roughly the same experience and living expenses are higher in the UK.

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

        "...I live in Canada, which is not renowned for high IT salaries .... my cousin's husband ... job as a Senior Software Developer"

        That's not IT. That's programming.

        I apologise if I'm hurting people's feelings, but "IT" is "Office Admin", Software Development is ***NOT*** "IT".

        It actively HURTS the way people don't - or can't - understand what they're discussing.

        1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

          That depends on where you work. If you work for a dedicated software development or engineering house, you're correct: IT are the people who the developers shit on regularly. If you work for a company that makes or does something else, e.g. banking or manufacturing, IT is basically anything computer-related, whether programming, desktop support, or system administration.

        2. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

          Do you even know what I.T. stands for?

          We'll wait.

    4. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Have they considered paying more for IT?

      What other countries?

  8. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
    Boffin

    IT exams were always a waste of time

    Even back in the 80s we knew that "computer science" CSEs and O-levels consisted of little more than learning how to calculate in binary - far better to study maths and science instead, and more useful for ensuring a wider choice of subjects at A-level and university.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: IT exams were always a waste of time

      In 198bluurrr I did Computing Science 'O' level purely and simply to get access to the computer room so I could get my hands on the computers do my programming.

  9. Foxglove

    What?

    In the last year, the number of job adverts for Advertising and PR managers with software configuration skills has gone up by 208 per cent

    Yes, just what we need, more Advertising and PR managers who think they can do software.

    I'm really not sure what is even meant by 'software configuration skills'.

    Clicking 'Save'?

    Or for the advanced Advertising or PR manager 'Save As' and being able to navigate to a specific folder?

    Creating a new folder and saving to that is left as an exercise for the manager(s).

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: What?

      Creating a new folder and saving to that is left as an exercise for the manager's PA.

      FTFY

  10. Handy Andy
    Holmes

    shortage

    They keep yapping on about skills shortage, but the rates never reflect a shortage. More of a shortage of people willing to work onshore for offshore rates...

    1. ecofeco Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: shortage

      Nailed and it's been that way for the last 20 years.

  11. Cuddles Silver badge

    Shouldn't be optional

    Computers are utterly ubiquitous in the modern world, and it's virtually impossible to find a job that doesn't require using one. Plus of course a huge amount of everyday communication and recreation involves them as well. IT shouldn't be an optional course, learning at least the basics should be one of the most important fundamental things taught in schools. That's especially the case given the problems that can be caused by failing to understand things like basic security. The problem is that IT is considered an optional skill instead of an important foundation. IT and computer science shouldn't be two separate GCSEs, everyone should already have learned basic IT skills well before that, and computer science should then be for people who are interested to build on that. Same as we don't give people a choice between learning maths or physics, you need at least some of the former before you can start learning the latter, and you still need at least some basic maths just to get by in life even if you don't want to become a scientist.

    Instead, we have the weird situation where children have to actively choose to learn the basic boring stuff, while people who might want the more interesting bits have to start from scratch with the boring stuff. No-one wants to take IT because doing nothing other than learning Office is boring and pointless. And no-one wants to take computer science because they (correctly) think half of it will end up doing nthing other thand learning Office anyway. What's actually needed is to require all children to learn the basic skills they're going to need, and then allow the actual interesting parts about programming and understanding computers be an optional course once they already have the basics. Just changing the course names around isn't going to help.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Shouldn't be optional

      Undergrad STEM subjects such as sciences (especially physics) will require coding skills and will include coding modules.

      But, of course, CompSci is far more broad a subject than coding.

  12. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Drones

    Our governments don't want educated, intelligent adults. They want ignorant, stupid, easily led adults that they can manipulate into supporting whatever their latest gravy train is. I've been seeing these articles on decreasing interest in science/maths/IT in schools since forever, and nothing ever changes. There is a perennial shortage of qualified technical people because people who can think for themselves see right through our Glorious Leaders bullsh!t and that terrifies them, so any initiative that actually works gets quietly side-lined or discredited. We have a culture in the West where being "fick and praaad of it" is actually a thing and bunking off of school is considered clever. Conversely being intelligent/educated just gets you bullied and belittled. If you want to make a change, teach intelligent kids NinJitsu so they can defend themselves from the bullies and change us from a culture that venerates muscles to one that venerates brains! We ain't cavemen any more, though reading the Tabloids might make you think otherwise.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Big_Boomer - Re: Drones

      Right on! In the area where I live I can count dozens of places where anyone can go to develop muscles but nothing equivalent to take care of the brain. Schools are nothing but parking lots for childrens while their parents are at work. We keep throwing a huge volume of information and tons of gadgets at them and we expect their brains to cope with it. And we all wonder that our young generation is growing more and more depressed and anxious with everyday.

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: @Big_Boomer - Drones

        Well libraries are not profitable, are they?

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Drones

      I suppose one solution would be separate schools, one sort to take the "fick and praaad of it" and one to take those who want to learn. Maybe it should be tried.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. onemark03 Bronze badge

        separate schools: ... Maybe it should be tried.

        It already is: public schools and the few remaining grammar schools.

  13. Dwarf Silver badge

    Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

    With the world awash with Raspberry Pi's, Adruino's, Micro:bit's and Jetson Nano's, there is little stopping people getting a lot of power on their desk for not a lot of money. So, availability of hardware or the software to drive it is not the challenge with getting hands-on access.

    The problem is that with many jobs starting at helpdesks and desktop support before you get to anything useful, and with many of the roles being outsourced and off-shored, there is a harder route into a job after education and I think that puts a lot of people off.

    The second struggle is with the people in the market. The recruitment challenge isn't the availability of people, its the availability of good people that are realistic about their level of inexperience.

    Collectively, I believe this is what makes IT less attractive than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Its been dumbed down and cost cut to make it very difficult for people to get motivated and going in their career, so they are just picking easier options.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

      Plus, if you're innate skills, aptitude and enthusiasm is hardware/software engineering and "fiddling about" building things with Pis and Arduinos, WFT are you going to apply for a job as a helpdesk monkey? "I love stripping down and rebuilding motorbikes, I know, I'll become a filling station attendant, because it's working with motor vehicles!"

      It's like telling an aspiring teaching that it's fine they're cleaning toilets, you're cleaning toilets *in* *a* *school*!

      1. Dr. G. Freeman

        Re: Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

        "It's like telling an aspiring teaching that it's fine they're cleaning toilets, you're cleaning toilets *in* *a* *school*!"

        Have actually been told that by a recruitment coach (to do with the Jobcentre), go be a cleaner at the hospital, get my "foot in the door" to work in the hospital labs.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

          I don't thing that, despite a few name changes, those offices and the people who work in them have undergone an radical improvement for well over half a century.

        2. Phones Sheridan

          Re: Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

          “ go be a cleaner at the hospital, get my "foot in the door"”

          I can verify this is true. I have several family members that have done this. No they haven’t gone on to become doctors or surgeons, but they have become lab assistants and physios. The NHS does seem to want to provide training to existing employees if they have the aptitude.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

            Not to forget, cleaning toilets and any kind of cleaning is extremely important, especially in a healthcare environment.

      2. Dwarf Silver badge

        Re: Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

        @J.G.Harston.

        I get your point (and you got an upvote), but unfortunately you cant just walk into senior roles without having done the legwork in lower roles and HellDesk's seem to be part of the right of passage to better things.

        Is it right ? No,

        Is it smart ? No

        Is it a good use of young people's time ? No

        Is it how the world works - Yes.

        Did it result in someone being able to print when they couldn't fix the Toner / paper / on-line button themselves ? : Yes

    2. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

      With the BBC buying and promoting foreign contender instead of the homegrown pi as part of its trash Britain campaign

      1. Binraider Bronze badge

        Re: Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

        BBC, meet bandwagon. RasPi approached the beeb way back when and made their excuses. Ineptitude of the first order to not take that opportunity to re-invent the computer literacy project.

        Talking of which, watching a few of the old programmes from the project made me realise just how far reaching and ahead of it's time some of the content were. Amazingly relevant today no matter how far the hardware has moved.

    3. Binraider Bronze badge

      Re: Never been a better time or a lower bar for entry.

      Server and application backend was one of my favourite jobs - when I had direct access to help people rather than having to farm tasks off to the outside world. Yes, I went to it straight from a Physics degree, and, yes, fully aware of how ridiculous that situation was... However, it was a foot in the door with a large company. It was also a way to get on the gravy train and learn some of the soft skills that no educational outfit will ever teach.

      20 years later I'm still programming on the side and the knowledge of IT remains bloody useful. But I have at reverted to my original line of study for my main job. The soft skills and the politics represent 90% of what you need to know. Says a lot about hopelessly inefficient Britain has become, when working around red tape is the primary job of people tasked with actually doing stuff.

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Again there's the confusion and conflation between "IT", "digital skill", "programming". What's "digital skills"? Being able to type? Well, yes I'd worry if today's skills were not producing kids who could manage what is functionally this century's "literacy".

    "ICT GCSE ... focused office skills rather than those most useful for a job in tech, such as programming."

    Well, DUH! IT/ICT ****IS***** Office Skills. It's "how to type", today's version of "how to use a pencil". Half this article is complaining there aren't enough people who can type, half is complaining there aren't enough people who can code. Make. Your. *****. Mind. Up.

    Are they complaining that schools aren't producing enough programmers? WTH are they expecting mass production of programmers from schools? As an earlier poster pointed out, the skill and aptitude for programming is something you *have* not something that is imparted by schools. Yes, it's something schools can do to kill off, but if you're not a person who is innately a programmer, it's not something a school can change. This is complaining that not enough people know how to drive, the economy is going to depend on automotive manufacture, why aren't schools producing enough automotive engineers?

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      WTF?

      "IT/ICT ****IS***** Office Skills."

      Wrong. In fact, so wrong as to be offensive. You may, like many engineers, look down your nose at IT support and operations staff, but the fact is that we do much more than type things into Word documents. Here are just a few of the things I have explained to "senior" developers over the years:

      * Why using source control is a good idea, even for pre-release code (after said developer's hard drive died, costing him a month of work)

      * How to use source control, like, at all

      * How file system permissions work

      * What a virtual machine is

      * What a container is

      * Why it's not a good idea to include passwords in plain text in configuration files

      * How DNS works

      * How networking works

      * Load balancing

      * High availability

      * Latency

      (Note to the moderators: look how good I'm being. I didn't swear once or insult this person, even though he comes across as a colossally condescending fucking toolbag.

      ...

      Dammit.)

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        It's not a matter of engineers looking down the nose at support staff. It's the problem that policy is being made by people who don't know the difference.

        One of the interesting points in the article is that post-secondary education, apprenticeships and degree courses, are actually getting more candidates. If they're doing well and the school courses aren't then it shouldn't be too hard to work out where something's going wrong.

      2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        None of what you have described is IT.

        My current job title is IT Field Engineer. *I* *AM* *NOT* *AN* *ENGINEER*. There is *NOTHING* in my job that is engineering, I'm a fitter. I know what engineering is, I do it as a *hobby*. Nobody pays me to code, people pay me to unpack PCs, install default installations on them, and put them on people's desks, put the PCs in the correct user group, create users, reset passwords. That. Is. Not. Engineering. It is this century's Office Admin. Sorry to hurt anybody's feelings, but it is. It is 1970s filling the photocopier, it is 1930s changing the typewriter ribbons, it is 1850s filling the ink wells.

        Let me repeat.

        IT is driving a car. It is *NOT* automotive engineering. If you're doing the computer equivalent of automotive engineering, *IT'S* *NOT* *IT*.

        Stop mixing the two up.

        1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
          Stop

          "*I* *AM* *NOT* *AN* *ENGINEER*."

          Really? You certainly seem to have the personality of one (kidding, guys, I'm kidding--really).

          More seriously, you seem to have defined "IT" very narrowly and "software engineering" very broadly. Someone on this very comment board made the point some time ago that many programmers couldn't really be said to be software engineers, in the sense that many programmers don't follow scientific principles when designing their code, whatever that may entail. I believe the same person may have made the point that, strictly speaking, there's no such thing as "software engineering," but I will let other commentards weigh in on that point. Conversely, many IT practitioners who would not consider themselves programmers or software engineers do in fact perform programming tasks, e.g. writing scripts (aka programs) in bash, Powershell, or Python. I would therefore argue that the line between "software engineer" and "IT person" is much blurrier than you propose.

          All that said, I would agree that there has been title inflation in the technology field and that people will tack the name "engineer" onto any role that seems vaguely technical (much like the recent abomination "Field CTO") to give it inflated merit.

          I would also suggest that you lay in a supply of dried frog pills . . . you appear to need them.

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Fine. I'll concede that you are an office admin. The IT people who do more than that, though, are not. A person who does easy stuff with desktops like you describe is doing something users should know how to do. The person who made that default image probably knows more. The person who configured the network and got everybody online while monitoring their machines for security incidents knows more. The person who ensures the necessary servers are available so work can continue know more. These things are clearly IT. We can draw a line between IT and software development if you like and still acknowledge that there are roles on the IT side requiring more advanced skills.

          1. Mike 137 Silver badge

            "... requiring more advanced skills"

            Whether it's engineering or not is not a matter of how "advanced" the skills are - it's about the nature of the skills. Engineering is the process of defining effective, robust and economic solutions to problems. It may involve mechanical, electrical, electronic, software or other material deliverables, but it may equally not - it might just be a matter of delivering a design.

            The current preoccupation with status is what leads to the idea of "advanced" and (presumably) "retarded" skills, but it's a red herring. Just as the PhD is erroneously considered to be the "top" of an educational pyramid of excellence, whereas in reality it's a sidestep, being merely a specialised training in conducting research. If you're not aiming to conduct research, a PhD is irrelevant to your capacities, and should be to your credentials, Sadly, it's not because it's interpreted as status.

            We need competent people to all the required things - including installing and configuring PCs. What matters is not a hierarchy of "importance" but whether they all do it well. And incidentally, speaking from experience as an engineer, engineers would be utterly ineffectual without mechanics and fitters.

  15. Security nerd #21

    Full time IT education courses

    The main challenge with these IT course, from GCSE, through A level and on towards degree, is that the material being taught is already 3-5 years old, and the world has moved on.

    Having spent a few decades in IT, I'm now firmly of the belief that real world experience is far better for anyone wanting a career in IT, and don't set any store in those presenting me with their MSc level qualifications in their CV. What I do find unfortunately is a tendency for new starters to want to go straight in to an IT specialism (such as Cyber Security), without having done the hard miles first on the likes of an IT support desk, or infrastructure teams.

    Learn what the users want and need, and how it works, before making the dive in to a specialism folks :)

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Full time IT education courses

      "The main challenge with these IT course, from GCSE, through A level and on towards degree, is that the material being taught is already 3-5 years old, and the world has moved on."

      Irrelevant. How does "being able to type" get out of date after five years?

    2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Full time IT education courses

      "What I do find unfortunately is a tendency for new starters to want to go straight in to an IT specialism (such as Cyber Security), without having done the hard miles first on the likes of an IT support desk, or infrastructure teams."

      So...... you must do stuff you have no skills and competence in before being allowed to do what you do have skills and competence in.

      I've been a field engineer for over a decade. I'm crap at help desk. I've only ever done two weeks at help desk, I was hopeless. You're insisting that people who are skilled at X be barred from doing X because they are crap at Y.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Full time IT education courses

      "What I do find unfortunately is a tendency for new starters to want to go straight in to an IT specialism (such as Cyber Security), without having done the hard miles first on the likes of an IT support desk, or infrastructure teams."

      Because they don't want to work on the helpdesk. It won't help them all that much, will it? If they waste a couple years helping people turn the computer off and on again, run antivirus scans, or the like, they haven't learned anything other than how users mess things up. If they're using that as a way to earn some money while they learn stuff elsewhere, that's fine. If they actively enjoy the role, that's fine. But if you think that's actually going to teach them something useful before you'll let them do what they want to do, they'll just leave. A helpdesk position only gives someone experience dealing with users and user-facing equipment. You don't learn how the server's run by doing that. You don't learn how to use databases by doing that. You don't learn how to manage networks by doing that. Theoretically, they could get some useful experience by impressing someone who tells them "Hey, stop doing that and come learn something better with me for a while", but that's not guaranteed and they could also just learn that themselves. So as an educational tool, it's not very good.

  16. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
    Stop

    Regurgitation

    This comes up all the time: "We don't have enough people with <your choice of skill here>".

    What they should be saying is that they don't have enough people willing to sit through hours of boring crap that will make virtually no difference to their future.

    As to 'IT is changing so quickly', I agree with another poster who stated that the new shiny appear (and often disappears) quickly and often and always offering 'a new paradigm'.

    I started out in electronics for money over 50 years ago and many, if not all, of the skills I learned then are still relevant today (although you wouldn't know it by looking at the electronics curriculum in many universities).

    Certainly we have moved forwards in physics a great deal since then, but the fundamentals have not changed enormously (our understanding of quantum mechanics, on the other hand...).

    I am comfortable in perhaps half a dozen languages (which I took the trouble to learn on my own time) and quite a few shells and scripting tools and even did some admin for a while (trying to bridge an AppleTalk network to Novell Netware was interesting).

    In electronics, the vast majority of advances are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Modern microcontrollers integrate lots of peripherals onto a single package, but the fundamental operation is no different than using a device with a couple of peripherals and physically separate peripherals as we did in the 80s onwards; they just happen to be within a single package. The code to drive it is, basically, the same. Sure, we have much lower power per gate and a modern micro can run on the same power a single gate required in the 70s and 80s but that has been an incremental improvement driven, in large part, by IoT.

    There have been numerous exceptional advances in physical devices (GaNFETs for instance) and digital circuit designers really need to understand transmission line theory (well, they do if they want to use modern high speed interfaces - simulators are great, but they can lead you very badly astray). The point is that none of these things require any really new knowledge; they require a thorough understanding of the underlying physics.

    If someone understands the fundamentals properly, then they can understand anything built on it (which is just about everything).

    As someone else noted, the skills necessary to get ahead will be largely personal effort.

    On another front, the aptitude to be a designer is really only found in a small percentage of the population in the first place but those with that aptitude can also do finance. I suggest comparing starting salaries for both.

    Oh, and stop calling someone who replaces a circuit board in the washing machine an engineer; they are a technician at best. The common perception of engineering is a repair mechanic, unfortunately.

    I happen to enjoy electronics and embedded programming which is why I do it and keep up with developments in those fields which is perhaps part of the reason that my last 3 full time jobs were offered to me after I was 50 (I started the latest job aged 66).

    The perception that formal education is supposed to turn out worker drones is fundamentally flawed and simply limits people to those of lower capabilities at least in the short term; there are some underlying fundamentals that everyone really needs to know, of course.

    So stop complaining that there aren't enough people studying skill X and start teaching them how to think critically; the results might surprise the education establishment.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Regurgitation

      I so wish I could upvote you more than once, have a beer instead.

    2. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

      Re: Regurgitation

      I would argue that the reduction in power requirements has driven IoT, not the other way around. A lot of what drove, at least in the US, into reducing size, weight and power requirements was the inability (at the time) to get much mass into orbit. The US space program *had* to make major weight (and, thus, power) reductions because we lacked sufficiently powerful boosters at the time.

      1. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge

        Re: Regurgitation

        I agree that you have a point; it's actually been a circular thing. Lower power - Hmmm, I can do X with that now.

        Manufacturers, I can do X, but I need it to last longer. Manufacturer - hmmm, market seems good. Make lower power.

        Rinse and repeat.

  17. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    There needs to be an understanding that there a difference between:

    * I need some staff who can write me a 64-bit multiplication routine, I only have 8-bit multiplies available; but an optimised non-MUL would be ok.

    and:

    * The entire world revolves around being able to read and write, and in today's world one reads and writes with electronic devices.

    1. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
      Pint

      The difference

      Bingo!

      The report uses the terms 'digital skills' in such a muddled way that some clarity is truly welcome.

      Have one as it is that time (in the UK anyway).

  18. Old Used Programmer Silver badge

    Solution?

    Get more Raspberry Pis out there....

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Solution?

      Because not enough people can type?

      1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

        Re: Because not enough people can type?

        We can fix that ... ... by using computer languages which are not strongly typed! :-)

  19. Tron

    But surely, tech is dangerous?

    Why would parents encourage their kids to do tech?

    Every day the tabloids and the BBC run scare stories about the horrors of tech and the internet, destroying lives and destabilising civilisation. Do folk really want their kids to be involved with all that? Surely that's not healthy.

    You can't have your cake and eat it.

    You push through Brexit, your exports are going down, your tax revenues are going down and you won't have enough skilled staff (from geeks to bouncers).

    You crack down on the net, spy on surfers, join with the unions to regulate disruptive technology to death and enforce digital borders, because the net undermines your control of your citizens, your economy is going to get hit and tech development will move elsewhere.

    You want to be North Korea (£5k fine for going on holiday, 16 migrants arrested last week trying to *escape* Britain), you have to learn to appreciate having a North Korean economy and skills pool.

    If you had developed the next big thing in tech, which regulatory zone would you release it for: US (pop. 328m), EU (pop. 447m) or UK (pop. 66m)? We isolated ourselves. There are consequences.

    It's difficult to get tech into schools before it becomes obsolete. Coding would work better as a non-examination subject/Japanese-style club activity. Every school should have some staff with wide-ranging coding skills to teach and encourage individual projects using the latest tech, allowing all of those interested in the subject, time to focus on it and access to good support and encouragement.

    It really doesn't help that consumer tech is now a sealed box, and hacking it open - which is how we all learned in the 80s - has been criminalised. The tech industry has to take some of the blame for stifling the next generation of their own staff.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: But surely, tech is dangerous?

      Every word of this is truth.

  20. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    a level maths nearer the mark than some wanky o level

  21. Dave 15 Silver badge

    Obvious why

    Even the register are punting job adverts paying little more than the money earnt by those sweeping Tesco's carparks and a good deal less than you get hanging your tits out for folk to see or even doing a blog. As for comparisons with bankers pay, politicians, actors or football 'stars' the less said the better. Read how the west was lost (dambiso) to see the folly. Engineers were once revered, looked up to, paid decently,now we are scum worth less and treated worse than traffic wardens

  22. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I agree

    with the above posting

    Our apprentice earns min wage for a 18-21 old , morrisons supermarket offers him £10/hr for stacking shelves, and hes gone (along with 6 months of trying to beat the finer points of engineering into him... hey ho... try again next Sept.)

    look at the pay I get and think... hmmmm

    Then goto the various job websites, and see how much technical knowledge you have to have to earn a decent crust in the technical/engineering side of things.

    Then notice that 'marketing' and 'sales' get a damn site more than that, and that the qualifications are usually "must have previous"

    Do somethign about the lousy pay and you'll get kids lining up to do comp sci

    But the best career advice I can give to anyone going for a technical job is "never ever be good at your job, if you cant be replaced, you'll never get promoted"

    1. Binraider Bronze badge

      Re: I agree

      I think back on how I got to where I am and can only recommend anyone that really wants to learn IT must go do it themselves; and find a foot in a door somewhere, doing something else but have the opportunity to show off those abilities. Entry level jobs with meaningful progression are in such short supply, minimal pay apprenticeships are tantamount to legalised slave labour. At the other end of the scale, the place I work - lucky enough to have a rather well paid apprenticeship scheme. Very much the exception than the rule. But even then, people stick with us for 5 years or so then look over the fence at a.n. other employer that pays more for experienced staff; while not employing anyone at entry level.

      Nice to know your employer is effectively filling in the gaps formal education doesn't do... (And we all know who is paying the bills for that).

  23. veti Silver badge

    "... focused primarily on Office-related skills..."

    So they turned the GCSE into the 21st-century equivalent of "shorthand and typing", and now we're meant to be worried that not everyone is taking it?

    I suspect that around 90% of kids leave school with basic ability to use a spreadsheet/word processor and fill in a web form, which is about all employers really need from office drones. For those who are going to do the serious work, tell me about numbers in tertiary education, not school.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: "... focused primarily on Office-related skills..."

      No, it was more popular when it was the 21st century equivalent of shorthand and typing.

      Since it was changed to a more computing based course it has become less popular.

      Maybe because some of them have trouble keeping up.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem is that teachers don't understand IT

    OK I expect there are a handful of exceptions...

    My sprog was at a well regarded state secondary school. At GCSE level they were taught basic MS Word and Excel skills and "web design". The latter involved Dreamweaver, but when I say "taught" I mean given access to a copy on a school PC and told to get on with it. In comparison when I used Dreamweaver in my business I sent an already competent web designer on a one week course to learn it, it was a fairly complicated product and self-taught schoolkids were not "learning" it just sticking words and pictures into a template. Aside from that its usefulness 10 years later is the equivalent of using log tables when scientific calculator does the job a lot better.

    In order to do Dreamweaver homework the "teacher" suggested that parents "obtain" a copy, I don't recall what it cost back then £3-400? the unspoken implication of "obtain" was to get a pirate copy. As the homework tasks were fairly basic I showed him how to achieve the desired result in HTML and CSS, he found that easy to understand (and of course far less bloat) but teacher rated it as a fail, with special negative comment that he'd used CSS rather than Flash (remember that?) for the buttons.

    He did choose IT as one of his 3 A levels despite it having a reputation as one of the A levels with the lowest pass rates. After the first year he was the only one that achieved a pass in the AS level so the school decided not to continue with year 2.

  25. Neiljohnuk

    Yet another P.C. fuster cluck?

    Having been a secondary school governor in the recent past it was very much a direction from the 'Education Authorities' that schools should produce more females with STEM and computing qualifications, with F.E. following suit, Universities already being driven to do likewise. Working in a Uni CompSci dept the quality of undergrad candidates has diminished noticeably over the last 10 years and more, with lock-step the STEM feminisation drive in schools, we still get the geeks, male and female, but they aren't as well prepared now nor as skilled as the schools teach to a lower more female attracting level.

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