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Opinion: Inclusivity the key to bridging the tech talent gap

11 Mar 2019

Article by BSA | The Software Alliance APAC policy manager Annabel Lee

We live in an increasingly fast-paced, intelligent and automated world.

With the rise of software programming and cloud computing, smart homes can manage everything from room temperature to ambient lights and mood music. Mobile devices are powered by AI technology that assist with tasks and get you where you need to go. More sophisticated AIs are also now being used to diagnose and treat diseases.

Driving the development of these emerging technologies are software-defined data centres, which have risen to prominence due to their increased agility, automation and intelligent management. However, all the benefits and opportunities of software-enabled technologies cannot happen without properly skilled workers.

With the digital economy taking off globally, efforts to diversify the technology workforce must expand even more quickly today.

Traditional data centre jobs are evolving into either infrastructure engineer or versatile DevOps engineer opportunities, blurring the lines between traditional IT operations and software development.

When set against the broader global backdrop of the ever increasing demand for tech and software industry skillsets, but a corresponding shortage of supply, data centres will have to compete with the rest for the limited pool of skilled professionals. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics In the US alone, there will be 1.4 million computing job openings by 2020, but only 400,000 graduates with the skills to fill them.

While data centres continue to drive emerging technologies, with the increase in software-defined data centres, and the corresponding lowering of demand in traditional data centre jobs, it is less important for policymakers to focus on the geographic location of data centres. Instead, emphasis could be placed on preparing the local talent pool to take advantage of the larger digital ecosystem and the ever-growing opportunities that exist in the global marketplace, driven by the freedom of data flows.

Many technology companies and departments focus their efforts on upskilling and hiring for technical positions in order to tackle this issue. In Asia Pacific, with more girls and women entering the skilled workforce and expressing an interest in pursuing higher STEM education and careers in technology and software, technology companies can definitely do better at tapping into this pool of potential talent by encouraging girls and women to continue in STEM education and pursuing jobs in technology and software industries.

Like many other sub-sectors of the high-tech world, the data centre workforce primarily comprises men. According to Girls Who Code, a non-profit organisation that aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science, it is estimated that only 24 percent of computer scientists in the US are women, and this includes women in data centre software positions.

While interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for women often wanes throughout their entire academic careers, research by Girls Who Code found that the sharpest drop occurs between ages 13 and 17. There is an increasing need to ramp up efforts to get more young women and girls involved in technology jobs, and the first step is teaching them how to code early. Coding skills are quickly becoming a prerequisite for all jobs of the future. An exposure to coding will help young learners emerge from school ready to tackle the challenges of the modern workplace.

Computing skills are essential to building a Smart Nation and many countries in Asia Pacific have already made it a priority for people to be upskilled accordingly. In Singapore for instance, children as young as five are getting an early start in the field, thanks to a growing number of coding schools. Saturday Kids, a digital literacy school, conducts regular classes and boot camps on programming, coding and design thinking. The school has taught more than 5,000 students aged five to 16, and enrolment has doubled every year since 2016.

The industry needs to continue working closely with policymakers and make investments in computer science education to help prepare the women of the next generation and bridge the looming skills gap. Mapping out career pathways and highlighting the new paths available are also important in addressing the issue. It is also important to have a pipeline in place for those who need to re-skill and retrain to perform their duties in new ways.

Everyone can reap the economic benefits of emerging technology, but it will require educators, employers, and policymakers to all take an active role. Software innovations are not replacing workers; on the contrary, they require more and more workers with the right skills. Economic competitiveness depends upon successfully addressing the current talent shortage and skills gap.

The future of this industry lies in the hands of workers across the region today.

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