Viewpoint: Schools are not teaching the right IT skills

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Skills are the top asset of young people entering the workforce - but do schools equip them properly? Once company struggling to recruit in the UK is German software giant SAP; it's boss explains why.

As the economic outlook remains uncertain, there is no doubt that the UK is facing a tough future.

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High youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems confronting societies around the world, condemning whole generations to a life of much reduced income.

In our special report we look at the challenges facing today's young and jobless, and the attempts to overcome the problem.

In graphics: youth unemployment

Special Report: Young & Jobless

We have seen a worrying growth in unemployment figures, especially amongst young people with figures now at a record high.

In an era when information technology (IT) has been identified as a key driver in innovation, and a key player in the country's return to growth, it is concerning to see a steady decrease in the number of students studying computer science at university.

Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted that the government is not doing enough to teach the next generation about computer science and we have recently seen a call to action to change the way the subject is taught so that students' skills are more translatable to the job market. This would give the UK the potential to foster growth and create new jobs in a vital segment of the economy; something we simply cannot afford to ignore.

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Our students are currently learning about how to use software, but they are not taught about how the software is made.”

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As Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman at Google, recently pointed out: our students are currently learning about how to use software, but they are not taught about how the software is made.

Don't use, create software

It would seem that today's tech savvy generation is not learning anything that they don't already know. IT companies are looking for employees with real IT skills, like the ability to create software and write programmes and the aptitude to use this knowledge creatively to help build a business.

At SAP, we have found that students' skill sets will need to be adapted to correlate with the ever changing technology market - something also highlighted in the recent Next Gen report by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

We see this in many markets across the world, although in Asia we are already seeing a higher number of candidates studying technology related degrees. Asia is often seen as a leader in IT innovation and production, and this seems to be reflected in the early adoption of all forms of technology, from smart phones to tablets.

Consequently, universities have developed more courses to fuel the fast growing technology marketplace in the region.

However, it is not just a revision to the UK's national curriculum that is needed. It is imperative that we find a way to excite young people about the subject and show them the opportunities that this understanding can offer them in the future.

Everybody needs IT

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The next generation understands the importance of technology outside of their personal use ”

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Graduates need to be able to differentiate themselves from other applicants and the analytical skills and logical thinking taught in computer science showcases the sort of talent that is not easily turned away.

It is not just IT companies that need employees with IT skills, every business needs IT; there is a wealth of growing opportunities in this field and we need to make sure students are aware of that.

As Steve Jobs once pointed out, the success of the Macintosh was built from the creativity of musicians, artists, poets and historians - who also happened to be excellent computer scientists. The UK needs to find and attract talent to this subject in order to capitalise on the potential economic value that this industry holds.

Reports show that there is a direct link between digital skills and global competitiveness, which will help Europe's overall economy. If we get this right we won't just be helping the next generation but it will result in economic security.

The technology market is always growing and it is vital that we have people that will have the right IT skills to facilitate this growth. The government has support from major technology companies to make a difference to the current system and it should make the most of it.

We need to make sure that the next generation understands the importance of technology outside of their personal use and excite them about what it could mean for them and the country in the future.

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