Clearly, if one factor shores up the success of the Northern European region and has earned us the reputation as a hothouse for entrepreneurial spirit, it’s our technical skill. It’s what has helped Nordic countries score well in the worldwide ICT rankings and created the environment for home-grown global giants such as Ericsson (Sweden), Skype (Estonia) and Nokia (Finland). It even inspired a new generation of start-ups led by Finnish games developer Rovio.
Always looking to motivate the next generation of upcoming technology experts, Microsoft and the Baltic Development Forum recently commissioned a survey with Top of Digital Europe, a regional non-profit ICT think tank, exploring which technology skills will make people the most employable, contribute to a company’s success and keep the region moving forward. With much EU research these last few years pointing to the growing demand for digitally-skilled workers to maintain a robust level of innovation and competitiveness in Europe, Top of Digital Europe set out to investigate the possible gaps in the Nordics and Baltics and explore how well aligned with the ICT industry third level education institutions are to meet and tap into the specific technological needs of the future. Our own observations in Microsoft and in Microsoft’s network of thousands of partner companies, already point to a difficulty in recruiting talent with the necessary technical skills, particularly when it comes to developers.
The survey engaged decision makers amongst leading ICT companies, start-ups and higher educational institutions in each country, along with venture capitalists (VCs) across the region. All agree that a good grounding in coding and programming remains at the heart of creating the developers of the future. However, the survey also illustrates that there is a growing discrepancy between current skills on offer in the region and what companies will increasingly look for down the line.
A more versatile skills base is becoming more attractive to an employer, rather than a pure technology focus and very specific programming skills. ‘Extrovert developers’ with broader skills, seem to be what businesses will increasingly demand. Workers will need to be technically skilled but also able to think outside of the box. Social and cultural skills are essential in remaining customer focused, happy to work in a team and able to come up with creative solutions.
Not surprisingly, given that they’re focused on accelerating growth, VCs say they look for entrepreneurship and innovation in a company’s programmers when deciding where to invest. Start-ups, with a propensity for risk, value higher education far less than universities, and all the businesses highly rate work experience, wide technical interest and a customer-centric perspective.
Beyond the social skills that make a potential employee appealing, the opinion of start-ups and VCs is that the current ICT curriculum can handle today’s expectations from the ICT industry, but is quickly becoming outdated by under-focusing on tomorrow’s technologies, particularly mobile app development and cloud computing. In Sweden, for example, only a third of universities value cloud based programming, compared to three-quarters of start-ups.
Against the backdrop of warnings over a European-wide digital skills gap threatening economic growth, the survey demonstrates the importance of teaching fundamental coding skills in early education, expanding them through university, ready to take into the workplace.
To inspire young people throughout the region to get involved with coding early, Microsoft is running a series of coding activities during the week of 8th – 12th December that will demonstrate how accessible learning coding can be, and hopefully drive demand for further programming and computer courses in schools. In Nordic, we are proud to team up with non-profit organizations deeply committed to teaching coding skills to youth, such as Coding Pirates in Denmark, Lær Kidsa Koding in Norway, Kvarbychix and CoderDojo in Sweden.
The week is part of the Hour of Code initiative, in partnership with Code.org, which endorses the overwhelming conclusion of the survey – that to retain its reputation as an ICT trailblazer, Northern Europe must adapt to business demands and teach the principle programming skills that will produce the rounded developers of the future to ensure a continued healthy pipeline of talent for the Nordic ICT hub.
For further information about Microsoft #HourofCode initiatives, please visit www.microsoft.com/hourofcode