A-level figures don’t bode well for digital skills

Technology companies have described today’s A-level results as a “step in the right direction”, although they remain concerned that a slump in the number of university applications will do little to address the growing digital skills gap.

A-level figures don't bode well for digital skills

The number of student receiving A or A* results increased for the first time in six years, up by 0.5% to 26.3%. The overall number of students taking up STEM subjects also increased, particularly in maths, which has seen 25% more entries compared to 2010.

However, the number of students accepted into UK universities stands at 416,310, a 2% drop compared to A-level results from 2016.

“Today’s results show a step in the right direction for STEM skills in the UK,” said Rackspace CTO Lee James. However, he added that the fall in the number of applicants being accepted on university courses is a concern.

“As the technology industry moves at an unprecedented speed, so with it does the demand for the skills UK businesses need,” added James, pointing to a 133% increase in demand for skills in microservices and software development over the past year alone.

“This evolving landscape, combined with a competitive skills market, particularly in the IT sector, means that we need a dynamic pool of talent in order to continue driving digital transformation across businesses,” he added.

The number of students taking computer science-related subjects increased to 20,580, up 1.7% over 2016 figures, while subjects within the mathematical-sciences category also saw slight increases, up 2.6% to 7,270.

Subjects such as engineering, technologies not related to computing, and combined sciences all saw drops in the number of students achieving university places.

“It’s vital for us to be communicating just how relevant digital skills are across all sectors and industries,” said Lynn Collier, COO at Hitachi Data Systems. “STEM skills aren’t just for developers and coders, and will be vital in helping the next generation of business leaders build successful careers.”

Many leading universities, including those that are part of the prestigious Russell Group, still have spaces unfilled and are advertising through the UCAS clearing system.

Bharat Mistry, principal security strategist at Trend Micro, said more needed to be done to close the skills gap: “Globally, there’s expected to be a shortage of two million cybersecurity professionals by 2019, and it’s becoming apparent that there are just not enough people entering our industry with the skills to become effective cybersecurity experts.”

“This isn’t just a concern for our industry, it should be one for all public and private organisations and businesses across the country,” he added.

Mistry argues that results demonstrate the need for the technology industry to do more to encourage more students into the field, although he admits the funding isn’t always there. “Security budgets have been growing faster than general IT budgets, so it’s a good place to start,” said Mistry. “We must look to help relieve the pressure as an industry.”

In March, the government announced a Digital Skills Partnership programme as part of a wider Digital Skills strategy, which aims to work with the private sector to offer four million free skills training opportunities. Lloyds Banking group is one of a number of organisations who have signed up to the initiative, promising to train 2.5 million people by 2020.

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