Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Fabio Forghieri

Skills > Degrees

By Fabio Forghieri, CEO of Boolean Careers

The tech scene in the UK is extraordinary. This country boasts more than 100 ‘unicorn’ tech companies, topping the total for the entirety of Europe. But, if we aren’t mindful, this may all change.

Total Jobs has reported that 71% of technology employers are expecting moderate skills shortages at the very least within the next 12 months. Additionally, this report reiterated the need for workers who are well versed in software development. This skill shortage will continue to present challenges for the UK tech industry until it is addressed.

As with most industries, technology firms have long scoured pools of university graduates for their entry-level hires. While nobody can doubt the qualifications of these graduates, there are issues of both cost and time — university courses take years and cost students tens of thousands of pounds. This creates a natural bottleneck on the supply of technology skills. Universities cannot quickly meet demand for these skills. The pool of graduates also isn’t particularly diverse, with fewer than one fifth of computer science students being women, for example.

When we consider these factors and the sheer scale of the demand for tech skills, it makes perfect sense that employers are reconsidering their entry requirements — broadening the scope of their recruitment to include candidates from alternative educational backgrounds. As a result, there’s never been a better time for those with technological ambitions to consider reskilling via a bootcamp or academy, whether they hold degrees or not.

The university degree has changed

Universities provide exciting environments for young people to make their way into adulthood — living away from family, meeting new people and gaining financial independence. But looking at it through the lens of career outcomes, university isn’t necessarily as useful as it once was.

For those specifically interested in career outcomes and value-for-money, there are alternative routes available into fast-growing industries like tech, in the form of shorter courses from alternative education providers. Boolean is one such example of an academy aimed at people who want an intensive, tailored programme which acts as a fast track into a job in tech. This programme, and others like it, solve a different problem to a university degree and highlight how the purpose of a degree has changed somewhat.

Where a degree is certainly still the route to a broad and comprehensive understanding of the theory of a subject, a growing number of people are pursuing alternatives to university in favour of the practical competencies of a subject. In an uncertain job market, this could be a sensible move, especially when we consider the ongoing discussion of value-for-money in universities in the wake of the pandemic.

The influence of the pandemic

The pandemic was extremely disruptive to education at all levels, notably forcing the vast majority of teaching to become remote — accelerating an existing trend towards remote learning. In fact, I would go as far as to say that online education has now been normalised, opening up entirely new avenues for teaching.

Of course, there are still barriers, such as a good internet connection or having the free time to dedicate to a training course. But it has removed the major barrier of location, and we will see this help close the opportunity gap between rural and urban populations. This expands access to education and therefore the supply of tech skills for companies that need them. This is a major factor in the rise of accelerated training programmes and the decline in the dominance of university degrees.

This trend has catalysed the ongoing changes that we’ve seen in education over the last few decades, such as the rise of adult education and vocational training courses. Bootcamps and academies like Boolean sit at the intersection of these changes, providing for those dissatisfied with the degree model, or simply excited by the surging demand for technology skills.

A shortage of skills, not degrees

A final point worth making which brings the trends discussed into focus, is that tech companies are facing a shortage of skills, not a shortage of degrees. It’s skills that matter when sourcing talent, not the number of letters after a name. This is acutely important now if companies intend to fill their vacancies with a diverse range of the best candidates, from a variety of backgrounds not bound by the constraints of the computer science graduate pool.

In the past, shorter intensive courses were often viewed merely as a helpful first step in securing a tech career. However, the confluence of greater demand for candidates and the changing role of degrees now means that skills-based courses such as those offered by Boolean present a credible alternative to university.