Are online courses the key to gender balance in tech?

As the world moves online, the Institute of Coding credits online courses with improving gender balance in tech

More and more females have taken advantage of the lockdown to turn to online courses as a means to improve their workplace skills, according to the Institute of Coding (IoC).

The IoC says it has seen signs of improved diversity on some of its short online courses, including near gender balance (47% female vs 51% male) on its collection of online digital skills programmes Digital Skills for the Workplace.

The online courses, hosted on leading social learning platform FutureLearn and created in partnership with the University of Leeds, makes up over 500,000 of the IoC’s online enrolments and offers 15 different topics such as creating a professional online presence, basic computer programming and communication skills; all with a focus on digital skills that are essential at work. 

Drawing heavily on input from industry experts to ensure learners gain the skills employers need, the collection offers a flexible method of upskilling. It has attracted participants from all walks of life with more than half of the surveyed learners being outside of the traditional university age, and 19% of participants are unemployed and looking for work, whereas 48% are currently employed.

Since lockdown in March, there has been an almost 2,000% increase in uptake of the online courses. Anyone looking to upskill are encouraged by Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage to sign up for the programmes: “I’m pleased such a diverse group of learners is reaping the benefits of these fantastic courses and I urge anyone looking to improve their digital know-how to sign up. Our digital economy can help power the UK’s economic recovery from coronavirus and we are determined to make sure everyone can develop the digital skills they need to succeed in the workplace.”

The impact these online courses could have on learners’ professional lives, especially as the UK recovers from the disruption to employment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has also been recognised by the Department for Education (DfE). It has featured six of the fifteen online courses developed by the IoC, FutureLearn and the University of Leeds in its new online platform called The Skills Toolkit

The Skills Toolkit gives access to free, high-quality digital and numeracy online courses to help people build up their skills, progress in work and boost job prospects. It is open to everyone, whether they are out of work or thinking about changing jobs, have just graduated and are looking to start their career, or if they’re just keen to keep their mind healthy and busy.

An increasing move to flexible educational delivery is part of the IoC’s mission to respond to the growing digital skills gap in the UK, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter the present and future landscape of work and education, with a large number of people experiencing disruption in their careers. This includes at least 9.3 million temporarily out of work and 1.56 million unemployed in the UK alone. Women are also being disproportionately affected by the pandemic, as they are more likely to be laid off than men.

Gaining digital skills is key in rebuilding the economy after COVID-19, says Rachid Hourizi, Director of the Institute of Coding said: “It is clear that, as the UK’s economy turns to the tech sector for recovery, a broad and diverse group of people will need digital skills. However, the national digital skills gap still requires a fundamental structural change that aligns employers and educators more closely together, while helping individuals navigate the landscape of digital education.

“The Institute of Coding is leading the charge when it comes to encouraging this change, through campaigns such as CTRL Your Future and collaboration with leading employer bodies like techUK. Lockdown has signalled a real appetite for more accessible and flexible courses and we’re here to meet this demand.”
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