While debate still continues over the extent of the digital skills shortage, Amazon has launched a program that will provide tech industry training and job placements.
Amazon plans to plug the digital skills shortfall by retraining armed forces veterans and disadvantaged young people in the UK.
re:Start aims to provide training and job placements for 1,000 young adults, as well as military veterans, reservists, and their spouses. The program will be focused around what Amazon describes as 'the latest software development and cloud computing technologies'.
The program is designed to address what UK companies perceive as a mismatch between supply and demand when it comes to digital skills. Speaking at an event to launch the program in London, John Goodenough, VP of technology collaboration and standards at UK-based chip designer ARM, said the company had hundreds of vacancies currently available via its website.
ARM is looking for 'a whole range of skills' that 'require digitally aware talent', particularly related to tasks needed to support its designers, such as running the firm's IT infrastructure.
"Like most companies we have a very large number of job vacancies, I think there's something like 400 open job vacancies today on the website," he said.
"For any business, managing the talent pipeline is increasingly a key part of what you do."
Organisations that have pledged to provide job placements include, Amazon.co.uk, Annalect, ARM, Claranet, Cloudreach, Direct Line Group, EDF Energy, Funding Circle, KCOM, Sage, Tesco Bank, and Zopa.
Amazon said participants in the programme can expect to be eligible for entry-level, technology-focused roles, including helpdesk support, network engineer, IT recruitment and in sales.
Similar training and placements schemes in the past have led to job roles in service management, service desk and as service analysts said ARM's Goodenough.
AWS is working with a number of partner organizations to source entrants for the program. These partners include The Prince's Trust — a charity that helps young people get into jobs, education and training — and the UK Ministry of Defence.
Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, stressed the impact of the digital skills shortage in the UK.
"We may be fifth in the world in terms of availability of technology, but we're 14th in the world in terms of take-up of that technology," he said.
"We know it's not a question of will, we know that businesses understand the benefits and the opportunity. It's a question of skill."
However, these longstanding claims of a skills shortage sit uneasily next to the relatively high proportion of computer science graduates struggling to find work in the UK, with 11.7 percent unemployed six months after leaving university. Compared to graduates in related disciplines — in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — their employment prospects are particularly poor.
Part of the explanation for these figures could be the type of universities where computer science graduates choose to study. In 2012 research found that only 13 percent of computer science students study at the Russell Group universities — the 24 leading institutions in the UK, with the majority taking courses at newer, generally less well-regarded universities.
The quality of teaching can be critical when preparing students for more complex IT roles, such as software and hardware engineers. ARM's Goodenough said that one of the key qualities the company looks for is a solid foundation of technical knowledge and an ability to think critically.
"One of the speakers today made a very good point about people needing to be evergreen. It's less that you have a lot of badges and more that you have the ability to keep getting the badges," he said.
"Anybody that comes into our business, what they'll be doing in three year's time won't be what they're doing today. It's more about STEM fundamentals: critical thinking skills and ability to present information."
There are also those who claim the entire notion of an IT skills shortage, which is also a common complaint in the US, is a myth, propagated by some technology and consulting firms in order to more cheaply employ foreign workers in these roles.
The first participants will begin AWS re:Start at the end of March.
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