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Maggie Philbin - digital skills cut across every workplace

The EU is predicted to face a shortage of 900,000 IT professionals by 2020.

  • Did you know that the IT workforce will increase by 39% by 2030?
  • Did you know that for every one of the 47% of jobs that will disappear because of technology in the next two decades, two new IT jobs will be created?

Named by Computer Weekly as the twenty third most influential person in UK IT and the fifth most influential woman, technology reporter Maggie Philbin is well aware of these figures and concerns herself with what they mean for young people and the future of the technology industry.

Most famously known for anchoring BBC’s Tomorrow’s World and, most recently, Bang Goes the Theory, Maggie is CEO of TeenTech – a science and engineering event for young people.

Maggie also chairs the UK Digital Skills Taskforce, with the hope of educating companies and young people in technology and creativity.

Why is it so important that companies encourage home grown talent in young people?

“The skills shortage across contemporary industry is constantly in the headlines, and it’s critical for companies to do as much as they can to make sure young people and their parents understand the real opportunities and the skills needed to take advantage of them.

“Companies are competing in a global marketplace for talent so it makes very real sense to consider how best to develop and encourage young people.

“Organisations understand not only the skills but the aptitudes needed and are best placed to recognise potential in a young person.”

If you were back at school today, what career would you strive for?

“I’d be doing everything I could to hone my digital skills – they are needed across every industry.

“I’d also seize every opportunity to develop personal skills and gain practical experience.”

What do you enjoy about presenting Bang Goes the Theory?

“It’s such a privilege to have access to an extraordinary range of people and places you’d never otherwise experience.

“For completely different reasons, I’ll always remember my visits to Zaartari refugee camp, the control room at National Grid and riding on the bright yellow New Measurement Train checking the tracks between Derby and London.”

What stereotypes in technology need to be overcome?

“The idea that you have to know everything before you walk into a company and that careers in tech are only open to people from certain social backgrounds or gender.

“It’s quite astonishing that the default image of male geek is so persistent.

“However things are changing and I’m hopeful that the new computing curriculum will play a big part.”   

What barriers do young people face to a career in technology?

“One of the biggest barriers is understanding what that career might look like.

“If young people have parents who work in the industry it can make a big difference but otherwise teenagers have little idea about the openings, likely career experiences  and salary opportunities.

“With TeenTech we’ve done a lot of work to help students see just how many possibilities there are at every level.

“There needs to be greater awareness about exciting tech apprenticeships such as those offered by companies such as the BBC, Cisco, Google, BT or O2.

“Digital skills cut across every workplace and running courses to help students who will not have had the benefit of the new computing curriculum would make a difference, not only to job prospects but to their ability to set up successful companies.

“I think we have to do much more to increase the social capital of students so that connections with potential employers can be made through work experience, internships and work placements.

“At the moment it’s very random and students are missing out on opportunities and employers are missing out on talent.”

Do you have a favourite invention or idea that you’ve seen over the years?

“The mobile phone and the internet – I can remember life without them.”

What is your motivation behind inspiring young people with technology?

“It’s so rewarding to see how young people gain confidence in their own ability and understand how they might belong in this sector.

“I set up TeenTech because I was very aware that it was only when I started work on Tomorrow’s World that I had any idea of just how big the world of science, technology and engineering really was.

“The TeenTech events awaken their interest, the TeenTech awards allow them to develop their own ideas, and their enthusiasm can infect an entire school.”

How important is it for the current workforce to keep continuously learning and developing?

“It’s crucial to understand that the learning never stops.

“It’s especially important for employers to try and think ahead in terms of the skills they need, so they can ensure their workforce have the opportunity to develop them.”

What is preventing companies from adopting and executing a digital strategy?

“When it comes to developing a diverse workforce, I think companies are keen to achieve the balance but perhaps not so willing to change practices which are making women in particular vote with their feet.

“The vast majority of companies are SMEs – small and medium sized enterprises – and many have short term strategies, so there is also a question of time and resources – time mostly.”

Who inspires you?

“My daughter – she’s 26 and works for a leading software company.

“She’s not only brilliant at her job but a great team builder and terrific fun; I’m so proud of her.

“Otherwise, I think it’s the wonderful tech companies who’ve helped build TeenTech and also the women who’ve played such a key part in developing brilliant initiatives which are really helping young people develop the skills for tomorrow and to embrace opportunities.”