By Jane Richardson
I am often asked whether the idea of embedding technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) into products is a way we can get around our IT skills shortage. After all, if our aim is to make this technology seamlessly integrate into the everyday functionality of finance or HR systems, we won’t need armies of experts to set up complicated algorithms and data scientists to interpret complex data outputs.
Well, yes and no.
Yes, we are democratising AI and making technologies that are complex easy to deploy and fast to have an impact―and in ways that do not scare budget holders with an airport lounge full of consultants.
But this far from alleviates the need for there to be many more people engaged in technology. And in the UK, this means many, many more with IT skills are needed. Around half the people employed in tech in the UK are working for companies running their IT systems. Thank goodness. Those of us developing technology need to have kindred spirits to work alongside with to bring the benefits of technology to British companies.
My colleague Neil Sholay talks about his work co-innovating with companies here.
Moreover, the need for tech people to build and develop new applications is rife. For example, we announced the expansion of the Oracle UK-based global AI hub last year and have numerous sales and technology vacancies in the UK and around the world.
With this expansion comes responsibility to do our part to help educate and inspire people to come into our industry and learn the skills that will make us all prosperous. It’s a big task.
Through Oracle Academy, our corporate philanthropic global education program, we have identified how we can harness Oracle technologies to support schools, colleges and universities, specifically:
Remember those days when you graduated and were excited about putting to use all the wonderful things you had learnt over years of education? Imagine the heartbreak for computer science students who find on graduation they have been taught technologies fast going out of fashion. Despite the great need for skilled tech graduates, current computer science graduates suffer from some of the lowest employment rates in the UK, which needs addressing quickly. For more on this, check out a thorough report by Nigel Shadbolt.
Avoiding this gap is the responsibility of industry and education experts to co-create curriculum, especially in higher education. One example of this is Oracle Academy working with New College Lanarkshire.
Earlier in education lies a second bottleneck: there are just not enough computer science teachers. There is not even one per secondary school in the UK. Again, time for industry to play its part. Across Europe, where similar problems persists, in 2017 Oracle pledged $1.4 billon to support computer science education in the European Union as part of Oracle’s wider $3.3 billion annual investment to accelerate digital literacy worldwide.
Lastly, technology skills alone are not enough to ensure technology has positive business impact. I call this “heads up” time―heads up, away from the screen, to focus on the other people in the room and across the company. The caricature of the ‘geek locked away developing amazing stuff’ is no longer the norm. For all those wishing to work in technology, whether for a software company like Oracle or in other industries, core business skills are as valuable as technology skills. This skills learning―critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity to name a few―are not bolt-on additions for Friday afternoon when the tech stuff is finished. They are core components of Oracle Academy courses, because without them technology projects fail.
There is no silver bullet for technology education, and others will contend other projects are important. No doubt they are. What can’t be disputed is that preparing future generations to be ready for the impact of technology and tech careers is a huge job. We at Oracle and Oracle Academy are working in many areas to help close this tech skills gap, and there is consensus that this requires partnership between industry, education, and governments. Come find at more at London Tech Week at the Excel in the AI Summit Exhibition Zone, stand AI306.