CC4G!

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I was lucky enough recently to award prizes to the Computer Clubs for Girls (CC4G) which is run by some of our female John Lewis Partners in St Vincent’s R C Primary School next to Westminster Cathedral in London.

CC4G is a programme run by e-skillsUK to help address the gender imbalance in Technology which starts with the shocking lack of girls gaining ICT qualifications in schools – only 9% of A Level students are girls – and only 15% carrying on to study Computer Science at university.

CC4G is a club designed for girls.  It shows the exciting ways that technology is used in music, sport and fashion through interactive and fun games and challenges.

It was inspiring to meet the class of 10 and 11 year olds who had done projects on building a website.  The subjects included fashion and nail-art!  They were all well-designed, brightly coloured and fun.  Even more impressive, each of the girls stood up and talked about their designs and why they had enjoyed building their sites.  Some even said why they were now interested in taking up IT!

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How CC4G works is that a group – in this case IT Partners from the John Lewis IT Directorate – or parents decide to support a “computer club” for school girls, usually aged 10 to 12.  They need to do the security checks to work in a school, of course.  They can then download materials from the CC4G website which enable them to run club sessions on fun topics that girls report that they enjoy.

When St Josephs came in for the prize-giving our team showed them how we are piloting RFID tags in clothes in our shops.  Normally the Club takes place over lunch time in the school.

Great fun was had by all!

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Since 2005, when eskillsUK launched the programme, more than 135,000 girls in over 3,800 schools have experienced CC4G.  84% of girls involved in CC4G state they are more likely to consider further education or a career in technology as a result of CC4G.  98% of teachers who run the clubs say that the girls’ IT confidence levels have improved.

If anyone is interested in running a CC4G, then you can see the materials at www.cc4g.net   There is 2-week free trial and then a licence costs £350, which hopefully companies will feel is well worth while part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) outreach.

We received the school’s permission to take and display these pictures.

Crisis in Numbers Studying IT at GCSE – what’s the answer?

Analysis by e-skillsUK of GCSE results this year shows that the number of students taking all ICT courses has fallen for the seventh consecutive year to just 70,418.  And this figure is a decrease of 12.5% on last year alone.

The number of students studying ICT at GCSE has been declining dramatically year-on-year from a high of 261,970 in 2005.

This continuing decline should be of great concern to universities and employers – and to everyone interested in the future competitiveness and success of the UK.

We know that demand for skilled IT professionals continues to increase, yet we are as a society failing to inspire a generation of young people to  study technology or to take up technology careers.

Something must be done!

It is for this reason that e-skills UK announced a few weeks ago that our Behind the Screen programme will be available to all schools from September 2012.

Behind the Screen offers GCSE students IT projects to tackle with interactive online materials supported by full teachers’ notes. The projects have been developed in close consultation with a number of employers, including John Lewis, and are based on a variety of real-life business issues.

Our aim is that students learn computational thinking, develop technical skills, and gain creative, team working and entrepreneurial skills – all in a fun, interesting and interactive way.  After all, students these days are the most connected and IT-enabled generation ever.

Young people who play computer games can learn to create games.

Young people who use apps every day can design apps.

Young people who use social media to connect with their friends can use social media to connect with customers.

I am very excited by the potential of Behind the Screen – but with the rapid decline of students even considering studying IT at GCSE, we have no time to lose.

e-skills UK’s Behind the Screen to be available to all secondary schools from September

I now know that I am definitely a real techie, since not only am I very excited today about Team GB’s brilliant  medals at the Olympics,  I am also very excited about e-skills UK’s announcement today that our innovative “Behind the Screen” programme (which creates  materials for teaching Key Stage 4 IT), will now be available to all secondary schools from the start of the next academic year.
 
I think this will open fantastic career opportunities to a new generation of school students in IT, by showing them what an exciting, fun and worthwhile discipline technology is.
 
Here is the announcement today from e-skills UK.  Some useful inks to the “Behiind the Scenes” web site are below.
 
The programme aims to give young people a rigorous grounding in the science and technology that underpin computing, has been in pilot since February 2012, and was originally scheduled for roll out in 2013. However, the excellent feedback from pilot schools, combined with the recent announcements about the future of IT in schools, have encouraged e-skills UK to bring the launch forward.
 
“The Education Secretary’s announcement about the disapplication of the IT curriculum gives schools a fantastic opportunity.” explains Sue Nieland of e-skills UK. “Schools continue to have enthusiastic cohorts of young people wanting to study IT, and a new freedom to adopt programmes which will challenge, engage and enthuse them.”
 
The Behind the Screen website offers a series of projects, presented as interactive online materials, and supported by full teachers’ notes. The projects – three now live, with more in the pipeline – are developed in close consultation with employers, and are based on real life business issues. 
 
Working through them, students will understand computational thinking, develop high level technical proficiency, and gain creative, team working and entrepreneurial skills.
 
Fully mapped to the IT GCSE and equivalent qualifications, Behind the Screen will provide students with an invaluable foundation from which to pursue computing related courses at Further and Higher education level, as well as preparing them for jobs in the industry.
 
“We’ve been working for some time on a new curriculum for the GCSE years.” says Sue Nieland. “To run alongside ‘pure’ computer science, we have created something that has the same depth and rigour but for a broader cohort of students. 
 
“These are young people who want to learn to create games, design apps, to get involved in the exciting and ever developing world of technology, and who are interested the power of technology to solve business and social problems. The extraordinary input of employers has enabled us to create exciting, engaging material to support these students.”
 
For more information please go the Behind the Screen page on the e-skills UK website or visit the Behind the Screen website.
 
Behind the Screen is led by a partnership of employers including IBM, the BBC, BAFTA, Blitz Games, Capgemini, Cisco, Deloitte, HP, John Lewis, Logica, the Metropolitan Police Service, Microsoft, National Grid, Procter & Gamble, Sainsbury’s, SAS, Steria and TCS.  It is supported by funding from the Employer Investment Fund of the UK Commission on Employment and Skills.

Topics at Women in IT Dinner

I was very pleased to be asked to kick off the discussion at a recent dinner for Women in IT, hosted by Spencer Stuart and Qedis.  I promised I would post the topics – and you will see why.

Apparently I was supposed to talk about “multi-channel in retail” but, being in blissful ignorance of this, I had notes on four topics which I am concerned about and I hoped the group gathered around the rather large table would be concerned about too.  These topics are not original but I think they matter to a UK IT audience.

Topic No 1: Social Media is Revolutionising Economy and Society

I started with the usual “Raise your hand if you:

  • use Tripadviser
  • are on Facebook
  • use Twitter
  • pin or browse on Pinterest
  • have a blog.

I find the hands go down as you go down the list, and that’s fine of course.  No one has to use social media. There are, however, still quite a lot of people who see it as something young people do. Or think that it’s nothing to do with the IT department – just for the luvvies in Marketing.  We had a good discussion and several of the women there had great examples of creative use of social media to connect with customers.

My key point on this topic is that the old web used to be one-way.  Customers bought stuff on your web site and employees got information from the Intranet.  Not any more, though: we all expect our views to be listened to and we expect to connect.  So it is up to you as a company whether you want to listen to your customers and to the people who work for you.  I think there can only be one answer to that…..

Topic No 2: The British Disease

The British Disease is not taking IT seriously.  Sometimes this important question gets reduced or personalised into “Why aren’t there more CIOs on Boards?” – which, to my mind , is not really the problem.

I do think there is something much more corrosive here for our competitiveness -which is that the British political and business class still does not get IT.  It is still OK for top business, political or cultural leaders to make a joke out of technology.  This is emphatically not the case in Berkeley, Boston, Bangalore or Beijing.  In India you pray your bright son or daughter gets a place at the elite Institute of Technology.  But in Britain, Computer Science has one of the highest graduate unemployment rates of any degree course.

In Holywood they make a film about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, in Britain we have “The IT Crowd”.  They are very few IT experts on the Boards of FTSE 250 companies: they are mostly dominated by accountants.

Would it be acceptable for a CEO or the Permanent Secretary of a government department in the UK to say they cannot read a balance sheet? Of course not – but they can still say “I don’t understand IT” and make a joke about sandals and bad hair.

In discussion many of the women there agreed that this really matters because it conditions attitudes to IT as a profession and to the role of technology in business and society.

Topic No 3: The UK IT Skills Crisis

I have gone on about this problem before on this blog, but a reduction of more than 50% in students studying Computing at A Level and a fall in UK resident applications for Higher Education Technology courses of 44% in the last decade say it all.

The UK IT industry is ageing with the number under 30 at less than 1 in 5 now, and over 50s doubled.  Again this is not the case in other countries who compete with us.

In discussion, we agreed that the unattractive image of IT in the UK and the low status of IT in schools and colleagues were a large part of the reason.  There was great enthusiasm for the new GCSE that e-Skills and others are developing, which will offer school students real programming challenges and opportunities to apply technology to solving real-world problems.

Topic 4: The Gender Imblance in UK IT

As is well known, there is a shocking gender imbalance in UK IT and it’s getting worse.  Only 18% of IT and telecommunications professionals are women.  And only 8% of A Level candidates and 15% of applicants for university IT courses are female.

We discussed why – and, again, image and perception matter here.  Several of the attendees had participated in CC4G (Computer Clubs for Girls) and similar initiatives to encourage girls to keep on IT as an option.

There was general agreement round the table that role models mattered. So remember Ada Lovelace Day this October – what should we be doing to mark the occasion and to raise the profile of women in technology?

So, having urged  everyone to get stuck into social media, I have done my duty and posted these topics. I look forward to your thoughts in return.

Speech to the Chemistry Club Part 4: The Three Dragons we have to Slay

You may have read some of my previous posts based on my speech to the Chemistry Club, so let’s go back now to the 3 Dragons we have to slay.

IGNORANCE

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Here comes Dragon Number 1, breathing fire.  His name is IGNORANCE and his mantra is “IT does not really matter”.

If you accept that technology is fundamental to the competitive success and cost-base of almost all industries in the UK. And that is is also fundamental to how the public sector interacts with us all as citizens and meets its cost and efficiency challenges. Then why is IT something of a ‘second class citizen’ in the UK?

Every IT conference I go to, someone asks “Why aren’t CIOs on the Board?”  Technology is always somewhere on the Government’s policy agenda – but not at the top.  It sometimes seems to me that the “T” in STEM (i.e. “Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths”) is silent.

I was appalled to be given a lecture by an industrial psychologist at a recent business event on how – as a member of the IT profession – “I must get out more and talk to the business”.

That approach made it sound as if I was wearing sandals, flares and a bad haircut. I loved the “IT Crowd” as a show on Channel 4 – but I do recognise that it played (very successfully) on the stereotype of the techie geek.

I just don’t think this kind of conversation about technology happens in Boston, Berkeley, Bangalore or Beijing. As we know, in India and in San Francisco, the heroes are the technology entrepreneurs who have literally transformed their societies, bringing jobs and prosperity to many people.

Two of the founders of the Indian IT industry – who I am pleased and proud to know slightly – are, for instance, engaged in setting up a social security system in the Indian countryside and spreading low-cost mobile banking to farmers.

It should be as unacceptable for a CEO, a Permanent Secretary or a Government Minister to say they do not understand technology as it would be for them to say they can’t read a balance sheet!

INCAPACITY

The Second fire-breathing Dragon’s name is INCAPACITY, particularly in the quality and effectiveness of IT Training and Education.

We are simply not, in the UK, turning out the number of technology graduates and apprentices that we need:

  • employment in the IT industry is growing nearly 5 times faster than the UK average,
  • 1-in-20 members of the UK work-force is now employed in IT, and
  • at e-skills UK we calculate that over 110,000 new IT professionals are needed each year.

BUT look at the numbers for graduates:

  • only 17% of the intake into the IT industry comes directly from education,
  • the proportion of IT professionals under the age of 30 has fallen from 1-in-3 to under 1-in-5,
  • the number of applicants to computing courses in the UK halved between 2001 and 2007 – down from 31,000 to 15,000, (It has now gone up to 17,000, but is still far too low at 1/2 of what it was and 1/3rd of what it needs to be),
  • The proportion of IT graduates unemployed 6 months after graduation is increasing to 14% – double the average, and
  • more disturbingly, of those employed only 45% – less than half – are actually in IT jobs.

The school numbers are equally worrying:

  • students taking technology A Levels have fallen by 60(yes, six-zero)% since 2003,
  • grades for these subjects are significantly lower than the average, and
  • at GCSE level, the number taking IT has fallen by 57% since 2005.

The problem is not just about overall numbers – the male/female imbalance is catastrophic and shameful. Only 15% of computing degree applicants and 9% of computing A Level students are female.

This sounds like a TECH SKILLS SUPPLY CRISIS to me.

What we need is VERY SIMPLE – we need an educational system that does 3 things:

First – we must recognise the importance of IT in nearly every industry, whether its retail or airlines, media or manufacturing, public or private sector.

Second – we need courses – at GCSE, at A level and at Degree level – that produce students who are genuinely inspired and excited about how you can USE IT to really make a difference in their business or department or charity.

Third – we need to attract talented individuals from the OLD industries into the IT industry of the future.

INCONSISTENCY

And, finally, the Third Dragon whose name is INCONSISTENCY: we need a strong voice for IT in the UK.

We have excellent organisations that speak for the IT industry in the UK: BCS, Intellect, e-skillsUK, universities and colleges of further education.  We have excellent allies and supporters in the political and media worlds.

In the UK, we all need to talk confidently and loudly about the importance of Technology  and make our case that excellence in IT and e-skills are today’s successes that will be essential to our future performance in the connected globalised highly competitive World.

So in conclusion I believe that:

  • the UK’s future prosperity and competitiveness depends on us securing a greater share of the World’s high-value-added work,
  • the UK should become a generator of – and magnet for – digital talent and high-value technology-enabled businesses, and
  • we must, in the UK, strive to be a world leader in the development of IT-enabled business solutions.

And, in my view, to do all this we need to slay the 3 Dragons of IGNORANCE, INCAPACITY and INCONSISTENCY.

We will, in my view, in this way generate Prosperity, Growth and Jobs:

  • for IT experts in the UK
  • in other industries throughout the economy, and
  • for people transferring from declining sectors and industries.
Do you recognise these Dragons? And how would you go about slaying them?

What’s Wrong with the UK IT Industry and What we should be doing about it? – Speech to the Chemistry Club

This is the text of a speech I gave last month to the Chemistry Club in London:

I am delighted – and not a little surprised – to be here.  When I received an invitation to speak, I thought it definitely was a mistake! Just look at the list of Ministers, Politicians and CEOs who have come to speak to the Chemistry Club over the years.

So, it’s nice to be invited as someone who practices IT and knows about Technology.  I must confess, however, that I don’t actually know very much about Technology as Technology.  I wouldn’t, for example, recommend anyone to ask me how to code in Java or C++, or to run a test script…

The reason – I imagine – for my being here is that I have experience in running technology in business and as a business:

I was CIO of British Airways for 10 years from 2000 and I am now having a great time as IT Director of John Lewis – a company you all know, and one you all probably know is, uniquely for our size, co-owned by our employee Partners.

I have also been Chairman of SITA – the Societé Internationale de Télécommunications Aeronautique – which is owned by its customers the world’s airlines. I am also privileged to be Chair of the National IT Skills Academy, part of e-skillsUK – of which more later.

I have been asked to talk about my experiences as CIO of BA and IT Director of John Lewis, and to compare and contrast the Travel Industry and Retail.

Well, I am going to take a leaf out of the book of some of the politicians who normally address you at these events and not entirely answer the question I have been asked.

What’s wrong with the UK IT Industry?

What I want to talk about this evening is “what is wrong with the UK IT industry” and – more interestingly – what we should be doing about it.

I understand that this evening’s audience is made up of one-third CIOs and IT Directors from the private sector and one-third from the public sector, and the rest from the IT vendor and consultancy sectors.

Actually, on the face of it, there’s not much wrong with the UK IT Industry – at least if you look at the numbers from one angle.  So the IT and Telecomms industry produced annual Gross Value Added of £81billion or 9% of the UK economy.  It delivers the highest output and productivity growth of all sectors of UK industry – past present and future.  One in 20 of the UK’s working population is employed in the IT and Telecomm sector.

So can we assume we are doing very nicely and there is nothing to worry about?

Absolutely not!  I am concerned that the UK IT industry COULD (and I stress COULD if we don’t act) go the way of other great British industries, either disappear – like Shipbuilding or Motorcycles or becoming an adjunct of Global players with the HQ and product development overseas.

Three malaises in the UK attitude to IT – “3 Dragons to slay”

However if you look closely I see three malaises in the UK’s attitude and support to IT, which we, as the leaders of the UK IT, should address – “3 Dragons to slay”.

Dragon Number 1 is that IT does NOT REALLY MATTER in this country. It does not usually have a seat at the top table and – worse than that – people react defensively or even worse see it as a bit of a joke.

Dragon Number 2 is that IT in schools, universities and colleges of EDUCTION IS NOT DELIVERING the numbers or types of skilled apprentices and graduates we need to sustain the position IT now holds in the Economy.

Dragon Number 3 is that we do NOT WORK TOGETHER EFFECTIVELY as we could as a Technology Sector to raise the importance of IT for the future of our British Economy and Society.

 To be continued…

The new National IT Skills Academy skills and training site

I would not normally plug products in my blog, but this is going to be a shameless plug, in what I believe is a very good cause…

I feel passionately that we in the UK IT industry need to continuously improve our skills and our skills training, and – very importantly – widen access to technology training and skills throughout the economy.

I have long been a supporter of e-SkillsUK, and I am privileged to be Chair of our latest venture which is the National Skills Academy for IT.  

The Academy has just launched what we hope will be a very useful site and will make a real difference in this area. This is aimed at helping individuals and SMEs in the UK, who need broad access to IT skills but at affordable prices.   

The Academy has therefore brought together IT training content from multiple sources (including globally-recognised training provider SkillSoft). This will give individuals and small businesses access to the type of high-quality IT training and resources that up to now have only been available to large corporations.

It’s basically a subscription service for over a thousand online courses from bite-sized chunks to the knowledge needed for major certifications. Mentoring, e-books, test preps and express guides are also available .  

The subscription will also provide access to resources for solving immediate problems, plus up-to-date knowledge from IT industry experts.  There will be news as well as articles, reference materials, tools and templates.  And the whole content is to be regularly refreshed to keep it current.

The Academy is providing unrestricted access to all of this content at a price of £95 for the first year. If you would like to see what’s there, please do take a look at  http://www.itskillsacademy.ac.uk/subscription   and spread the word about it.

I would be very interested in knowing what you think of this new Academy initiative. I am also keen to hear about people’s experiences of using the tools available as we go forward, so we can continue to improve it.

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