Lack of IT education holding back UK social mobility

25 April 2024 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

Two-fifths of the British public believe the lack of information technology education in primary and secondary education has stood in the way of a potential career in the tech sector. According to a new study from BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, perceptions like this could be hindering the UK’s efforts to promote social mobility. 

Despite a great deal of talk from the UK government, social mobility efforts have lagged over the last decade. In 2022, this led Goldman Sachs – the second largest investment bank in the world by revenue – to warn that “compared with other countries, the most disadvantaged in the UK are less likely to climb the income ladder”, adding that “the economically advantaged tend to stay at the top”, and that Covid-19 had “increased inequality further,” while rises in inflation, especially energy costs, are intensifying the problem, as they hit those on lower incomes hardest.

At the same time, the much-discussed skills shortage which is apparently holding back the UK’s economy shows no signs of abating. As the UK faces a major talent shortage – the next chapter of Brexit threatens to stifle the flow of labour between Britain and the continent, while an ageing population could see almost 3 million jobs left unfilled by 2030. In particular, digital skills are in short supply – costing the economy some £10 billion in lost productivity.

The importance of education

A whitepaper from BAE Systems Digital Intelligence suggests that the UK might kill two birds with one stone, if it were to beef up its information technology education – in and out of school. According to the study, misconceptions around the role school plays in determining their ability to enter the tech sector is holding many people back from a career change that could see them boost their workplace fulfilment and earnings.

When polling more than 2,000 people across the UK, the researchers found that 49% of people thought that they needed a technology or IT-related degree to get into the tech industry. There are a growing number of apprenticeships and trainee positions across the industry – including with BAE Systems Digital Intelligence – which actually open the sector up wider than this belief gives credit for.

But possibly even worse, a large minority of people believe that they have passed the opportunity to enter the tech sector as soon as their formative education had commenced. A 42% chunk of respondents suggested that a lack of IT education in their primary or secondary school days meant that they would be unable to take up careers in the tech sector. A similar number also complained that school had failed to highlight this as an ‘exciting career path’. 

Yet virtually across the board, a greater share of minority respondents than the average (65%) say they’d be prepared to switch careers in order to pursue a job in tech

Speaking on the findings, Theresa Palmer, global head of DE&I at BAE Systems’ Digital Intelligence business, said, “It’s clear that respondents’ formative years play a pivotal role in shaping their ideas about tech careers. This begins at school, where more action needs to be taken to promote careers in the field as attractive options that are open to everybody.”

However, she added that the industry itself has “a big part to play here,” as it needs to better showcase “alternative routes into tech” along with placing a greater focus on “transferable skill sets and people skills in job applications.” Backing that up, 73% of respondents told the researchers that the IT industry could do more to encourage job applicants from different backgrounds – rising to 83% of respondents who worked in tech themselves.

As well as enabling working class students into better-paid lines of work, the study also found that a majority of minority respondents also felt they were prepared to take the leap into the tech sector – helping to combat the “diversity deficit” of the industry. In particular, 90% of neurodivergent men, and 86% of Black women, saw opportunities for social mobility in tech – offering a key chance for the tech sector to bridge its talent shortage in turn; by hiring more from marginalised talent pools.