IT industry needs problem-solvers, says Open University

Universities 'should deliver value to employers by improving problem-solving skills'

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have has a design breakthrough.

Graduates need to be equipped with problem-solving skills before they enter the technology sector, according to The Open University.

Speaking at a roundtable event on the future of IT skills hosted by The Open University, Dr Jon Hall, senior lecturer in computing at the university, stressed the importance of teaching students how to solve IT problems on the job, rather than training them in technical skills alone.

He said: "The industry's been around for 78 years now and, ever since the beginning there's been a need for new skills.

"The first challenge for education is to equip people who are coming into the job market and who are trying to reskill in the job market with problem-solving skills, and I think that's the critical thing for education to get right.

"It's always been the case employers need problem-solving but because of the rapidity of the challenges people face these days, because of the interjection of new technologies, it's becoming a real, critical thing."

Higher education must teach students the ability to apply these skills as they are being taught, he continued, so that they can add value to an organisation as soon as they start.

"Universities have to get their thinking hats on and teach people how to solve problems at the same time that they're working, because the problems they're trying to solve are not going to wait six months," he said.

"Education not only needs to deliver value for the individual anymore, but it needs to deliver value back to the organisation."

His comments come after the Ccoalition spent 20 million on IT degree apprenticeships in an attempt to plug the skills gap in the UK.

It's also introduced a new computer curriculum for schools, while the Conservatives want to train another 17,500 maths and physics teachers in the next five years.

Problem solving would also help students adapt to a rapidly changing environment, said Melindi Britz, CompTIA Authorized Partner Program Delivery, as troubleshooting and problem-solving skills are increasingly becoming some of the most important abilities to teach at foundation level.

"It's not enough to just know the model, but to be able to use that in different environments and not just training with a specific vendor or specific course, to be able to work within one organisation," she said.

"That's probably the key challenge in an educational setting to get that balance between key knowledge and skills so that they can add value from day one, to the deeper critical thinking skills required to actually help the organisation drive forward and question decisions when appropriate," added Dr Arosha Bandara, senior lecturer in computing at The Open University.

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