Makers Academy: Universities Won’t Solve IT Skills Crisis

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Founder of Makers Academy, Robert Johnson, thinks high-quality private education can rescue the UK IT sector

Universities alone will not be able to produce sufficiently skilled people to fill existing vacancies in the IT sector. That’s according to Robert Johnson, the co-founder of Makers Academy – a start-up that aspires to turn coding enthusiasts into fully-fledged web developers in just 10 weeks.

The course is the first of its kind in the UK and aims to compete with traditional university degrees. “In 25-30 years from now, universities as we know them now will no longer exist. They might survive as research institutions, but for education purposes, they don’t make sense. Four years and £60,000 in order to get a degree that gives you a 50 percent chance to land a job?” Johnson told TechWeekEurope.

The US-born entrepreneur thinks that in a world where higher education can be accessed for free online, the biggest challenge lies in providing students with practical skills necessary in the workplace.

Makers Academy launched its third class on Monday, and the first graduates will be leaving the programme in two weeks.

Education as a brand

According to the Makers Academy, over the last few years the average number of university students studying computer sciences in the UK has increased by one percent, while the number of jobs to be filled in the IT industry has increased by 21 percent.

Earlier this year, the National Audit Office warned that if the number of applicants for ICT courses doesn’t increase, it could take “up to 20 years” to fill the skills gap in the cyber security field. European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes recently highlighted the ICT skills gap as an major pan-European issue.

Minerva StudioSince February, Maker’s Academy has done its part to stave off the crisis, teaching enthusiasts the essential skills they need to land a developer job.

“Many university graduates lack practical experience. They have a lot of theoretical knowledge, but computer science degrees aren’t preparing people for real work. There’s this gap of a few weeks, sometimes a couple of months, when the employer takes that graduate and tries to turn the stuff they have learned into practice,” told us Johnson.

“But if you are going to be doing certain types of programming, like web development, you don’t necessarily need that computer science background. You just need experience. And that’s what we are trying to do at Makers Academy.”

Make no mistake, Makers Academy is a business. The tuition costs £5,000, and only the top 10 percent of applicants get accepted into the programme. At the end of the intensive 10-week course, ‘graduates’ are introduced to 45 of London’s top technology companies looking to hire entry level developers.

Sure, £5,000 sounds like a sizeable investment. But according to Johnson, the benefits of the programme are well worth the cost. He says that an average salary for a recent graduate is around £20,000 per year, whereas an entry-level developer salary is around £35,000.

From an employer’s perspective, the Academy serves as a sort of a recruitment service – it guarantees that the graduates are ready for the workplace, and can get to work instantly.

“Our product is our students,” says Johnson. “We only accept people that are super-passionate, super-motivated, very bright and we think will be able to go out into the industry and represent our brand.”

The entrepreneur thinks there are a few good public sector initiatives in the UK to fix the skills crisis, but a lot more could be done to simplify the accreditation process. “We are in talks right now to figure out if the government could help us subsidise the cost of teaching, but there are so many hurdles to jump across. They don’t want to help you unless you get accredited, but unfortunately it is the same process that is holding back a lot of universities already.”

Where public sector can’t provide, private education firms like Makers Academy should be able to help close the skills gap that is concerning so many in the UK.

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