Belfast Telegraph

Give pupils an earlier start on IT skills, urges expert

By Jamie Stinson

The digital sector is booming by 10% every year and now employs 30,000 people in Northern Ireland.

But we need to teach IT skills to children at a younger age to meet the growing demand, according to one industry expert.

Due to the rapid growth in the IT sector, 5.2% of all jobs in Northern Ireland did not exist in 1990, a figure just slightly below the UK average of 6%, according to a PwC report.

Michael Noble, of Momentum, Northern Ireland's digital sector trade body, agreed there has been rapid growth in the Northern Ireland IT sector.

"There are over 30,000 people working in the digital sector, and that employment has been growing 10% every year for the last 30 years," he said.

And the skills among workers here has often been the big attraction for firms setting up shop.

"They can find the skills here, it's something we do well. The universities are doing a great job of producing graduates."

Mr Noble said Northern Ireland could continue to grow as a global IT destination, but children must be taught the key skills at a younger age.

"The opportunity (to grow the sector) out there is massive, we want to make sure we grab as big a share as possible," he said. "Part of that would be introducing coding much earlier in education. Estonia brought it in for pre-school children and that is where we want to be."

Along with Queen's and Ulster University, Momentum launched the Bring It On campaign, which teaches coding to schoolchildren.

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland economy as a whole is expected to have the lowest growth of all the UK regions, according to PwC.

Its chief economist Dr Esmond Birnie said: "We are looking at GDP growth of around 1.7% for Northern Ireland for 2015.

"That's the lowest of all the UK regions

"It's also below our estimate of 1.8% for 2014, suggesting that, while employment may still be growing and unemployment falling, output, exports and productivity all remain elusive and remain well behind most other UK regions."

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