Coding skills in courses and for the workplace

Having the ability to code (e.g. HYML, CSS, Javascript, JQuery) and programme (e.g. PHP, MY/SQL, Python,) to gain the most out of digital technology is a skill increasing being required within the workplace. Gaining specialist skills in cybersecurity are seen by one author as being a good investment if you want to “assure 50 years of steady, well-paying employment” (Alec Ross, 2016 ‘The industries of the future’, p.150), although here I am considering the more general aspects of coding and programming in the way that ‘competent use’ of email, word processing and spreadsheet skills are standard requirements for many job roles.

Computer science and coding is now part of the UK’s national curriculum (11 – 16 year olds), aiming it to provide some of the essential workskills for young people ready for when they enter employment. It is clearly a challenge for teachers to engage learners positively, especially when the rationale and opportunities for this element of the curriculum has not been clearly explained by the course creators. (Coding the curriculum: New computer science GCSE fails to make the grade, 28 June, 2017)

Young people certauinly see coding skills as something which they would like to gain as part of their skills armoury. (Over half of 18-24 year olds wish they had learned coding, 30 October 2017)

Most economies are underpinned by digital technology, with it also being pervasive throughout society. Whilst there is a focus on young people and also existing digital technology experts, there is a gap within society which is not being exploited. Literally everyone has a smart phone, with many people also having netbooks/laptops; smart technology in the home and workplace is increasing exponentially – sensor technology and data capture is everywhere. Are the majority of people making the most of what they have? Probably not and part of the reason will be that they are unable to influence what can be achieved.

One particular example I am thinking of is the use of computer/digital models to help improve management decisions. Without the ability to understand basic coding or programming, devising your own digital model is something which is not achievable for most people, however, the opportunities it creates when this can be achieved are significant.

The context I am considering here is that of turf management and all the possible questions that can be posed, answered, implied, inferred or alluded to when a digital model is created. With the management of turf surfaces being in an uncontrolled environment (i.e. outdoors and by nature, unlike an indoor sports hall for example) having an intelligent support mechanism which isn’t influenced, often spuriously, by sales and marketing from the many amenity suppliers will definitely help turf managers to make better informed decisions in how best they can use their often imited resources, espcially financial resources. This has a direct influence on the quality of the surface they produce – efficiency and effectiveness being the outcome from being able to apply their own coding and programming skills.

Coding and programming skills are not on the radar of many adult courses or qualifications, yet as digital technology is a fundamental aspect of the modern workplace there are a range of opportunities that can be introduced to improve peoples knowledge and applied understanding of digitization and how this impacts on their working life. Integrating this into a planned study programme, with often time pressures on many subject areas is clearly going to be an issue that needs to be addressed, but we need to look forward rather than backwards in the development of what is needed to deliver 21st Century training to learners.

Chris Gray, 9th November 2017