THE BLOG
11/23/2016 09:48 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2017

The solution to the looming digital skills gap might be sitting next to you

It's getting a little hotter, but we're in something of a phoney war in Brexit Britain right now.

While there's increasing scepticism than those in charge actually have a clue as to what they're going to do, we're still, effectively, in an economic and constitutional version of purgatory while we wonder what comes next.

That purgatory is having an effect already on investment, visas, immigration, recruitment. We tottering towards a problem, we just don't know how big it is yet. The chances are that it'll be chunky. Very chunky.

One of the ways we're supposed to work our way out of this is the tech economy, which the Cameron government always trumpeted as one of its triumphs. As a modern 21st century economy, we will code our way out of this.

Aside from the decline in confidence, investment and recruitment that's been set off.

Assuming 'Brexit means Brexit' as our Prime Minister has repeatedly and unhelpfully said, and not a lite version which allows some freedom of movement of people in exchange for some freedom of movement of goods and services, then we'll soon be in a position where tens of thousands of Eastern European web developers will be forced apply for visas to remain in the UK. And they won't do that. Because why should they, when they can find a more welcoming environment elsewhere and with British start-ups already looking towards re-locating to Berlin anyway.

The tech revolution will then look rather empty since the UK actually has a digital skills gapped, currently plugged by imported talent from Romania, Poland and the Baltics as we've exploited the old Eastern Bloc enthusiasm for science and mathematics up to university level.

So what next? Well, the chances are the answer is sitting right by you. They're called 'women'.

As it stands, 4% of gaming programmers are women. As are seven of the of the world's top 100 tech billionaires. In 2015, women held 57% of all professional occupations, but only 25% of all computing occupations. The only place where women get involved in coding on anything like an equitable basis is in teaching it.

The culture remains one of 'coding is for boys', and 'too difficult' - and that's a problem. It means the existing tools for coding education are actually putting most girls off wanting to learn more about coding and creating on the web. Instead, we want to build tools to give girls both the skills and the confidence to code.

There's plenty of places they can learn coding (really, plenty) and plenty of ways they can be empowered to do so. But so many of them start after to most formative years, at primary level. And while that might address the immediate post-Brexit skills issues, it won't do so quickly, nor will it do anything for the long term.

So tools like the coding game Erase All Kittens will be especially useful - aimed at girls, aged 8+ and teaching HTML, CSS and Javascript - the real languages of technology, it already has 50,000 players across the world, effectively pre-launch, 47% of them girls (it is estimated that less than 20% of girls participate in code education outside of school).

That's where the difference will come - equality in coding education will, eventually, lead to equality in the gender balance in the tech industry. And it's no coincidence that there is greater gender equality in the education industry - the role models are there, we just need the tools.
In the meantime, we're heading for a skills chasm.

And yet the answer was there all along.