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Kids and coding in France – why education is vital to solving the skills shortage

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Europe, and indeed many parts of the wider world, is in the grips of a significant skills shortage – in particular for roles with some level of IT or cyber security expertise. In France, however, we see this issue writ large. Speaking on the French labour market in 2016, and mirroring this claim, Chantana Sam and Karen Ward, economists at HSBC, stated: “Over the past few years, France has consistently lagged behind its Eurozone peers in terms of job creation … the unemployment rate in France, at 10.2%, is still not on a convincing downward path.”

France’s competition, then, is making significant headway into meeting the lack of IT educated staff. The UK has now launched the Cyber Discovery programme - a £20m government initiative to develop the talent of 14-18 year olds. Highlighting the requirement for skills in this area, the programme has attracted over 20,000 participants in just six weeks. As a next step, we also see government-led cybersecurity apprenticeships in a variety of sectors – bridging the gap between classroom education and hands-on experience.

Another initiative, CodeFirst: Girls, is designed to right the imbalance currently in the industry – aiming to teach 20,000 women to code by the end of 2020, and has delivered £2.5m of education to date. In Estonia, famed for its technological capacity, utilises various programmes. The Information Technology Foundation for Education directly targets teachers and lecturers across all levels of education – the aim of which is to upskill potential experts across their learning career.

Despite significant private sector investment and the building of Station F, the bubbling technological giant risks a very real drop in the number of professionals available in the near future compared to other EU countries – a drop on numbers that are already low.

With Macron now spearheading new initiatives for tech unicorns, ideally increasing overall demand for home-grown talent, there remains a pressing need to increase the quantity, and indeed the quality, of career-relevant experience gained in primary and secondary education establishments. The value of early-stage education into cybersecurity and coding disciplines simply cannot be overstated.

In light of this growing requirement, the European Cyber Security Month in October of 2017 focussed primarily on awareness – in part, highlighting the gap in supply and demand for IT specialists, and showcasing the fact that effective cybersecurity is “a shared responsibility”.

This skills shortage in France has given rise to a new form of private initiative – the not-for-profit coding school. Addressing the issue somewhat is French organisation École 42 – the business is the brainchild of Xavier Niel, a French billionaire. Niel has, to date, spent over €47m on this creation in Paris, and has now expanded the services with a $46m investment to develop a new school in Silicon Valley.

In addition to this, a number of new initiatives are being developed – not least in the form of coding games. The development of coding skills in the youth of France, in short, must not only be developed early, but must be matched with mid-level initiatives such as apprenticeships, and well-paid roles at the end of this journey. This can only be achieved through greater governmental influence.

It is often said that, with the skills shortage, there is in fact a large quantity of skilled staff available – but businesses just don’t want to pay them the market rate. Currently, new entrants into the IT and cybersecurity market can often be drawn towards the dark side of the industry. One example of a lucrative task is the development of ransomware packages for significant profit.

This allure must be matched by the businesses looking to secure this top talent. This can take the form of generous salary packages, and from a governmental perspective, incentives to help stimulate demand. The risk of an insufficient career path for IT specialists is clear.

Europe is now facing a huge shortfall in the number of cyber professionals. It’s been predicted that whilst 40% of European firms are looking to grow their teams by a minimum of 15% in the next year, there will be a shortage of at least 350,000 cybersecurity professionals by 2022. For France in particular, matched by a near 10% unemployment rate, a strategic change is clearly required.

Training in coding and related IT specialisms now needs to be at the forefront of the nation’s dialogue. With the number of new outreach programmes and business incentives – you’d be forgiven for thinking that France was leading the way. For France to truly take its place as a world leader in the technology sector, we must educate our youth on the latest innovations… not just leaving it up to those in the private sector. 

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