May 2024


Are IT Skills Bootcamps Worth the Effort or Simply a Route to a ‘Comfy Pay Packet’?

By Sascha Giese, Tech Evangelist, SolarWinds

Last year, I wrote in GPSJ that the UK must close the IT skills gap if it hopes to become an artificial intelligence (AI) superpower.

Perhaps someone in government took notice. Fast forward to February 2024, and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan announced a new drive to get young people into IT. 

Backed by the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT), the Skills Bootcamp campaign is focused on improving five priority skills, covering cloud computing, software development, data and analytics, cybersecurity, and web development.

The thinking behind this scheme is simple. With the demand for cloud and coding skills sky-high, these short courses could help a new generation of young people kickstart a career in technology.

Not only would this boost their job prospects, but it would also help the British tech sector, which is in desperate need of junior staff. 

“Whether your personal ambition is to secure a comfy pay packet, land a creative role, solve the world’s most pressing challenges, or all three, the Skills Bootcamps we are promoting today can help you achieve your own career goals while being part of our superpower sector,” Ms. Donelan said in a statement announcing the initiative.

Should potential recruits need an additional sweetener, the announcement mentioned salary expectations for those who finish their training with “average pay packets hitting £70,000 for cloud computing pros”. 

IT skills are essential for the future

Make no mistake, the campaign is a good idea. But I do have some reservations, in particular concerning salary. First, there is a danger that some young people may think they can simply walk into a job once they complete the training. Yes, there is a shortage of junior IT staff, but they have to be properly equipped to meet the needs of the workplace.

Second, suppose this initiative is designed to recruit the next generation of IT workers for the public sector. What’s to stop them from hightailing it off to the private sector, where they could easily double their money? 

Third, is this merely a one-off programme of events or part of a long-term strategy designed to narrow the skills gap permanently? 

Skills training must be part of a long-term plan

Of course, some people may question why the Government is spending money on this now, especially in what is likely to be an election year. 

After all, when the Government is under pressure to do so much—everything from increasing health spending to lowering taxes—some may argue that the money allocated to this scheme would be better spent elsewhere. 

But as someone who has worked in IT all my life, I view this as an investment in the future and money well spent. And when it comes to closing the skills gap by upskilling the next generation of engineers, developers, and coders, we must do everything we can to attract new talent. 

Which is, perhaps, why I was interested to learn that each Bootcamp—made up of courses that last up to 16 weeks each with a guaranteed interview on completion—is open to everyone. Attendees require “no technical knowledge or educational qualifications” to secure a place.

Removing barriers to entry

This is really refreshing. In effect, it’s allowing people to pursue a career in computing even though they may lack a recognised qualification. This reminds me of an approach taken by GCHQ, the government’s intelligence and security agency. In its hunt to recruit the brightest minds, it regularly posts puzzles to test a range of problem-solving skills and spark an interest in their important work. 

Rather than rely on academic qualifications to find the best talent, it seeks out candidates who think differently in terms of ‘ingenuity, creativity, and lateral thinking.’ If we are ever to solve the skills gap, it is up to educators who handle students from the earliest ages to recruiters in both the public and private sectors to think outside the box.

By removing the obstacle of needing a qualification and focusing instead on talent and aptitude, the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology is maximising its reach. With such initiatives, the prospects for IT skills in Britain appear more promising.

Perhaps the UK has the potential to emerge as a force in AI after all.

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