When IT Meets Politics

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June 13, 2016  3:49 PM

Is there really a Digital Skills Crisis?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Apprenticeship, apprenticeships, BIS, Digital skills, European Commission, Pitcom, Trailblazer

This morning the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee released its report on the “Digital Skills Crisis”  This afternoon the House of Lords debated the government response  to its “Make or Break” report last year . Last week the European Commission published a proposal for a Skills Guarantee . Meanwhile BIS is ploughing ahead with byzantine routines for a return to the type of training grant and levy scheme that was  scrapped (for good reason) in 1980s.  Unfortunately though dead, the idea of grants and levies, job creation schemes for bureaucrats, will not stay buried. In 1992 I helped kill an attempt to revive it with a Bow Group Paper on the theme of “Training for jobs not just jobs for trainers”.  The processes proposed by BIS to fund “approved “training organisations to deliver apprenticeships which meet criteria dictated by officials not employers, make the average European “initiative” look like a model of efficiency.

I therefore applaud the recommendations by the Select Committee that

  • Government needs to work with closely with employers, higher education institutions and schools to understand the apprenticeship marketplace, to ensure that education aligns with industry’s requirements, and that apprenticeships are delivered in a flexible way to adjust to future changes in the digital sector”  (Para 54)
  • Government should emphasise the need for more digital skills components in all apprenticeships … ” (Para 55)
  • should review its Trailblazer initiative, making it more streamlined and accessible … simplifying the scheme’s processes” (Para 56) and
  • … make it easier for industry to partner with universities and colleges to support student teaching … work placements … allow the cost to be written off against the Apprenticeship Levy contributions” (Para 57)

I am less happy with the recommendation that  “The Government should review the qualifying requirements for the new IT roles added to the Tier 2 visa “shortage occupation list” , making it easier and more flexible for SMEs to recruit top talent from outside the EU” (Para 30).  The European Commission proposal for a “Skills Guarantee” to help adults stuck in low paid jobs is more forward looking but the Committee’s recommendation is perhaps inevitable,  given the 50 years of policy failure summarised in my evidence to the House of Lords report (see pages 1057 – 70) and referred to in my blog entry, describing the need to break out of groundhog day, when that report was first published.

The crisis is over. The patient is dead” .

We failed to use the past “crises” as a catalyst for change. Things came to a head during the run up to Y2K and the “false start” of the transition to mass-market, Internet-based on-line systems. My 2001 IT Skills Trends report was about surviving the bursting of the dotcom bubble and preparing for the skills that would be in shortest supply when recovery came – in 2005 – 6. But that recovery did not come. By 2006 demand and salaries for those jobs which could easily be moved off-shore had stagnated. Much of the software and support industry had come to be staffed by a mix of overseas systems development and imported contract labour. We were facing the consequences of our inability to retrain our existing workforce, let alone our failure to educate and train our children.  I stopped writing the reports. They had become too depressing and the only ones taking action were those who helped write them.

An Apprentice Levy without a credible, let alone efficient, Grant process

Today we have a curate’s egg  wth unemployed computer science graduates in parallel with unprecedented shortages of competent and trustworthy recruits for Fintech and Security roles and another exercise to dig up the dodo of levies and grants – this time with the grants ring-fenced to meet the costs of “approved providers”, officials trying to dictate the requirements that employers are allowed to have and different processes for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Last week I attended a briefing session for employers. Those serious about training their future employees with the skills they will need were already looking at how to bypass the system, writing off the levy as a payroll tax on those jobs they could not realistically subcontract or move out of the UK. It was, as the Commons Select Committee has pointed out, not only unfit for purpose when it comes to the needs of SMEs (Para 30), it looks unlikely to meet the evolving needs of those large firms who already train their own and/or those in their supply chains.

But markets do not stand still. The Commons Select Committee call for the annual “dynamic mapping” of initiatives against demand so as to create a long term mechanism for adjusting the strategy (Para 29) is therefore particularly welcome.

The recommendation that Government should commit “to work with the Tech Partnership to develop industry-led, vocationally focused careers advice …” (Para 43) is also most welcome, but this should be extended to cover school-leavers. We can no longer afford to peddle the immoral fantasy that the majority of our children will benefit from starting their working lives saddled with student debt after spending three years to become less employable than if they had been paid to do a graduate level apprenticeship. In 1982, in “Learning for Change” I attacked both

  • “the examination treadmill to which we chain our adolescent youth in a set of puberty rites crueler than those of primitive Africa, At least in Africa they do not label any of the participants as failures” and
  • our confusion of “education” with taxpayer subsidy for the middle class ritual of kicking the fledglings from the nest.

The many recommendations of the Select Committee with regard to computing schools in schools are worthy but the most important boring is  Paragraph 83 where it recommends working with the Tech Partnership “to raise the ambition for, and coverage of, industry led digital training, and to make it easier for business of all sizes to get involved“.

The need to “break open the educational ghettos” has been a key message since  1982, when PITCOM organised for relays of school-children (from 30 schools) to man an exhibition in the Upper Waiting Room of the House of Commons (26 computer systems, up to 14 running at any one time running off three power points, at a time when Parliament had no facilities for schools visits!). That exhibition was attended by 120 MPs: one returning six times to get a group doing Economics A Level to run variations on the Treasury Economic Model – hence my long-standing support for Donald Michie’s idea that MPs should be able to simulate the effect of the legislation, including amendments, which they are expected to approve.

That was over 30 years ago. It is therefore particularly sad that the same messages have to be repeated as though they are new. The reason is linked to the prevalence, evident in paragraphs 70 – 76, that teachers (whether in School, College, University or Industrial Training Centre) have to be expert in IT in order to educate their pupils/students.  If that is correct then there is no solution – other than to rely on those (in other parts of the world) who use their limited supply of skilled educators to supervise the delivery of blended learning (mix of packaged learning materials, personal contact and supervised work experience) by mixed teams of assistants and subject experts: which is what successful digital “informal learning” groups (para 70 – 77) as well as enlightened employers, have been doing since before school computing curricula or computer science degrees were invented.  Hence some of the recommendations in my own submission to the Select Committee

January 18, 2018  7:29 PM

Who opposes on-line age checking and why?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Uncategorized

Articles have recently appeared in the Daily Telegraph and on the BBC website  making the claim that age checking, as required under the Digital Economy Act, will drive adolescents towards the dark web. They quote an impact assessment dated March 2017 and based on a draft produced in the previous year – before the products and services being developed in support of BSI PAS 1296  were available for demonstration.

The argument being made is akin to claiming that putting speed cameras on main roads will cause motorists to use side roads as race tracks.

Before dismissing such claims as absurd we need to recognise that there are a number of groups who do not want effective anonymised age checking, as per the PAS, for a variety of reasons.

• There is claim that the techniques on offer threaten anonymity and privacy. In fact they remove the need for on-line retailers/publishers/service providers to collect/maintain personal data that may leak or be requisitioned by regulatory authorities. This reduces both the attack profile for organised crime and risk of fines under the GDPR while increasing the privacy of the vulnerable.

• The techniques thus undermine the case for big data collection in support of programmatic advertising at a time when reputable businesses are already pulling their on-line advertising budgets because of the filth with which their brands can be routinely associated. This does indeed present a challenge to the business models of the burgeoning “big data” industry.

• There is a powerful and well funded (in Internet lobbying terms) group who want their click bait viewed by those of any age to earn fees and/or to preserve their ability to prey on those under the age of informed consent. The layers of one-way encryption which prevent access to information, other than that a given photo or hashtag refers to some-one above or below a given age who has been verified by a known and trusted person (e.g. a teacher or bank official), are a significant obstacle both to disseminating inappropriate clickbait to minors and to acquiring the identities needed by those seeking to access age protected services in order to contact and groom the users.

The information to credibly impersonate most of us can be acquired quite cheaply over the dark net, collected and collated from hacking big databases or bought from those employed in overseas call centres. In consequence technologies previously used to check the identities and authorisations of those with legitimate permission to make high value financial services transactions now have to be used on a large scale in support of routine bank transactions. They are now available to verify access to age-controlled services at remarkably low cost.

There are, in consequence, now a variety of age-checking technologies that appear “fit for purpose” – if the purpose is:

• to reduce the risk of those using reputable, age-controlled services being approached and groomed by perverts with false identities.

• to enable those providing “adult” entertainment, on-line gambling or selling alcohol or cigarettes or knives, to reduce the risk of inadvertently serving under-age customers – including those using their parent’s credit cards or who have acquired their own bank accounts, pre-paid debit cards – or those belonging to some-one else.

• to make it easier for payment providers and advertiser to avoid penalties for supporting illegal activity – for example “all pornography providers who do not require age verification will be acting illegally. Payment providers and advertisers are already contractually obliged to disengage their services from any company found to be acting illegally”. Once notified of the illegal behaviour, payment service providers and advertisers are “required to disengage from non-compliant pornography sites.”

Of course nothing is 100%.

If intelligent and intellectually curious youngsters are into on-line misbehaviour they can access material over the dark web, just as they can supplement their pocket money by acting as money mules or as foot soldiers for organised on-line criminal networks. Hence the need (on which I blogged last year) to identify the brightest and best, to recognise and reward their abilities as “cyber prefects” and to harness them as potential security industry high fliers or state sponsored cyberwarriors, before they turn to the dark side – or are recruited by overseas powers.

Interestingly age verification is one of the few high-tech services where Britain leads the world. US and Pacific Rim Countries are looking to adopt the secure, anonymised, “low data” solutions developed for the new legislation, available for demonstration to MPs and Officials and ready for use as soon as the legislation is passed.

The reason is for the UK lead is that our domestic commercial “adult entertainment” providers are strong supporters of robust anonymised age checking. They have no wish to attract those who cannot pay. They have every reason to not want to be undercut by those peddling free porn as click bait. The UK licensed on-line gambling providers are similarly strong supporters. So too are those selling age-controlled products (alcohol, knives, tobacco etc.) and those delivering them. The group also has global support from those wishing to provide safe, child and family on-line environments.

Much of the opposition comes from the click bait industry – which until the revolt of the advertisers , often did not measure or care where the clicks came from. That is now changing, although we can wonder whether some of the planned automated responses are yet appropriate to the problem . But part undoubtedly comes from those who brought the National Council for Civil Liberties into disrepute in 1976. That community appears to wish to preserve a “right” of unchecked on-line access to children to corrupt, groom and abuse and to be fighting a determined rearguard action accordingly, using a variety of obfuscations, as in the 1970s, to disguise their true motives and mislead reputable organisations.


January 15, 2018  3:04 AM

Who is serious about data protection?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
.ico, Data protection, GDPR, IETF, Uncategorized

The latest data breach in Leicester City Council , putting some of the most vulnerable in society at immediate risk from potential local predators, illustrates why it is so important to implement the recommendations of the DCMS Select Committee report – Cyber Security – Protection of Data Security On line . Had the individual found guilty of stealing personal data from the Council earlier this year been sent to jail instead of being fined £150, it is unlikely that some-one would have sent details of vulnerable children and adults to most of the taxi firms in the City – whether accidentally or deliberately. The jail sentences for unlawfully obtaining or selling personal data in the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act would not prevent such egregious carelessness.  But the weakness of fining the organisation, not the individual, for carelessness also illustrates the need to fine those who do not train their staff and audit and test their processes – as called for by the Select Committee.

See my blog immediately after the report was published for a summary of the recommendations then read the full report. It is under 30 pages.

Unless the UK implementation of the GDPR addresses those recommendations it will not improve the situation. Data Breach notification merely alerts the sharks to a pool of potential victims. Meanwhile many of the obligations will serve mainly to increase the reluctance of Directors to take responsibility for what they do not understand and cannot control. Meanwhile the data protection and cyber security industries are  obsessed with compliance technobabble and expensive products and services that do little, if anything, to reduce the likely of serious breaches or improve the privacy of potential victims.

At the same time we are ignoring the elephant in the room. Those promoting big data business models, whether in the public or private sector, need to take responsibility for the consequences. Those intent on hoovering up large amounts of personal data (including from children’s mobile phones and smart toys) need to be held personally, not just corporately, liable for its misuse. This is particularly so in the public sector where breaches merely lead to a merry-go-round of OPM (other peoples money).

The provision of supposedly anonymised databases for “research” purposes also needs serious scrutiny before we get too enthusiastic about Big Data research institutes. About the only people who appear “serious” about the privacy and security of our medical records, for example, are the insurance pharmaceutical companies who come in for so much flack. Academic researchers tend to “know” that their work is so much more important – as well as lacking the necessary security knowledge, let alone budgets. Meanwhile NHS data protection depends on nearly half a million individuals having a more robust attitude to security than 40,000 German Enigma operators in World War 2. Currently most think that hare accurate information available, when and where it is needed for patient care should be more important. Are they wrong?

I also recommend pondering the Select Committee’s polite but devastating comments on the failure of the relevant IT professional bodies and trade associations to condemn innately insecure products, services and development practices. The Internet Engineering Task Force meets in London in March. I would love to see demonstrations of users outside the venue calling on those, in practice, who run the Internet to live up to their responsibilities to the rest of society, not that their “toy” is part of the world’s critical infrastructure.


December 31, 2017  12:09 PM

Minister tells Google and Facebook to obey law or be taxed.

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Brexit, Uncategorized

The UK Security Minister sent an apparently very odd message to Google and Facebook in a Sunday Times interview on New Year’s Eve, “obey the law or be taxed.

HMRC has a long and dishonourable record of doing dodgy deals with multinationals and their customers . But publicly offering dominant on-line players a choice appears odder than most. At least at first sight.

The real message behind the rhetoric is therefore likely to be very different. Perhaps he was saying  “co-operate with the CONTEST programme or see your corporate tax-planning e-mails published in a Sunday Times special.”

The NSA has no legal power to spy on US Corporations, let alone pass the results to the US Inland Revenue Service but,

we can reasonably envisage some form of global co-operation, not just Anglo-American, let alone “merely” pan-EU.

The Chancellor did not mention co-operation with the EU on tax enforcement. One of the first benefits from “Cuddly Brexit” (Mutual Seduction as opposed to Bear Hug) appears to be the agreement to move negotiation from “Customs Union” and “Tax Harmonisation” (with on-line revenues  routed via the Irish Republic, Luxembourg or the Netherlands to black holes in the Caribbean) to “Tax Alignment” – with no incentive for physical cross border smuggling and UK on-line revenues collected here in the UK. It was only when I looked into the different between harmonisation and alignment that I realised why so many digital lobbyists were desperate to preserve customs “union” as opposed to the long standing open border between Ulster and the rest of Ireland, but not to say why.  Such negotiations will, of course, be complicated by the role of Juncker, (Prime Minister and/or Finance Minister of Luxembourg for most of his political career) but will have the strong support of  most tax-paying member states.

Security and Tax avoidance are two of the areas where we should be offering greater co-operation as part of the Brexit negotiations, with our end of the partnerships firmly under UK law to facilitate effective international, not just pan-EU, enforcement.

We should also commit to enforce the e-Commerce Directive limitations on “innocent carrier status” as part of the Brexit.

The algorithms which enable Facebook and Google to target the adverts you see, according to data they have collected on you, means they are not innocent carriers because they select the receivers of the transmissions.  As part of the “war of the algorithms” they are seeking to better control the material that appears via the programmatic advertising services run by their partners and subsidiaries. That is because have little choice other than to accept responsibility for doing so in , or see their revenues return to those publishers who use humans to edit content. It also, however, means that their responsibilities go much wider.  This has massive implications for their business models and share price. How they handle these will determine their future as potentially long-lived and loved “global utilities” or temporary phenomena, like the US rail-road cartels of the late 19th Century.

I plan to blog some more on the likely effect on the Digital World of “Cuddly Brexit”, the friendly divorce that leads to a life of trading polygamy.


December 30, 2017  4:43 PM

Can democracy and the advertising funded Internet survive the war of the algorithms?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
algorithm, democracy, fake news, Internet

AI as an excuse for obfuscating responsibility for commercial decisions

Much of the current hype over Big Data and Artificial intelligence results from the large scale use of use of old techniques to hoover up personal and other data by those who wish to avoid scrutiny of the way they collate and analyse it to influence/exploit their audiences. Sometimes this is to conceal sonking  (the scientification of non-knowledge, charging extra for stating the obvious or giving false credibility to guesstimates). Sometimes they have covert as well as overt objectives. Meanwhile most of the examples of public benefit (from traffic analysis to epidemiology ) in the recent NIC report on Data for the Public Good do not require new research or technology. Many are already operational, albeit in small scale across UK local authorities, from Plymouth through Bournemouth and Milton Keynes to Newcastle, not just the test beds of Bristol and Manchester or other parts of the world. The “research” most needed is into processes for the effective the governance of data quality and of secure sharing in a world of increasingly complicated intellectual property rights and of the “correct” use of analytical tools for interpretation and exploitation in the interests of all who contribute or are affected.

The buck stops where?

The subtitle of “Move Fast and Break things”  is “How Facebook, Google and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy”. The comments attached to the Guardian review  indicate a progressive establishment caught in the headlights of the Internet cartel’s dominance over the inter-linked worlds of advertising, information, innovation, lobbying and funding. Meanwhile the US election of Trump and the UK Brexit vote indicate that small town, working class America and high street, lower middle-class England have lost faith in the “establishment” (Washington, Whitehall or Brussels). So too have the students, saddled with debt in the UK or unemployed across most of the EU, as the on-line world threatens to render their expensively (time as well as money) acquired knowledge redundant.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter have begun to appreciate that the rest of the world no longer believes they represent a brave new world, outside the traditional norms of society. The mass of voters are discovering that the Internet is not only a critical utility for their “off line” world. It is just as violent  , corrupt  and abusive . The tech giants are, in consequence, under mounting pressure to help make the Internet safe for the vulnerable, from children to grandparents. It is no longer sufficient to “protect” a playground for misogynist West Coast and other Metrosexual libertines (or did I mean libertarians?). Some players, like Uber, appeared, until recently, immune from  the pressures coming via the advertisers, fund managers and venture capitalists who finance most current Internet businesses and the spin-offs and start-ups they support. But the backlash following appearance of Jihadist videos alongside ads for luxury SUVs  finally spurred Google, Facebook and Twitter into action to help protect their programmatic advertising revenues.

The dominant players are now under pressure to help clean up the Internet

Part of their response has been the promotion of automated tools  to detect those promoting fake news and generating automated click bait  to harvest pay-per-view advertising revenues. The progress to date, however, has not impressed the Chairman of the UK Culture Media and Sport Select Committee,  himself a former advertising executive  . He has called for the kind of detail that his former colleagues require, if they are to continue to support an advertising funded Internet in the face of the damage being done to major brands by, for example, the parental backlash against the exposure of their children to all forms of undesirable content, from jihadist grooming, through child abuse to unhealthy eating.

Meanwhile many of the elderly, who control most of the nation disposable wealth, are resisting attempts to get them to use on-line banking, or even to upgrade their existing systems, because they fear that any contact from a “computer expert” is fraudulent. It is said that the information is readily available to electronically impersonate of over half the over 65s in the UK. One consequence is the promotion by banks of services like Trusteer to help protect themselves from rogue customer transactions, at the risk of inconvenience to those who try to keep their browsers up to data with the latest releases . But the war of algorithms goes much wider than battles between browsers and security software.

How will the Internet Community respond?

On one side we have the algorithms mixing data from multiple sources to create, sustain and exploit armies of false identities running over botnets of hijacked devices. Those producing such algorithms include state security and cyberwarfare operations (east and west) as well as organised crime (often better funded than law enforcement).

On the other side are the “solutions” promoted by “big tech” companies to reassure their advertisers and regulators. These are usually variations on automated “censorship”. Commercial confidentiality and security arguments are used to defend lack of public accountability and governance for the techniques used or people involved – because these are often carefully tailored to avoid impacting current revenue streams or admitting the liabilities that would arise from loss of “innocent carrier” status.

The Internet Society and the Internet Engineering Task Force develop, test and implement standards on which a critical mass of the industry can agree – but we need to appreciate why that has not been, and will not be, sufficient.

ISOC was founded in 1992  to provide a parent for the standards body, the IETF. Together they form the collective of engineers who keep the Internet running. I was persuaded to join in 1995, when IBM, CISCO, EDS, AT&T et al had agreed a $4 billion war chest to “re-engineer” the Internet for mass rollout if it passed its first “commercial” challenge, the Atlanta Olympics, without serious problems. I was told that the three biggest challenges it would then face were – security, security and security. I was also told that it would have to reach out beyond the education and scientific community for its governance to be credible as the Internet achieved its potential.

It has tried.

It has not yet succeeded. The “rest of the world has”, until very recently, been content to leave it to the “experts”.

I am among those to blame. As a sometime committee member of  ISOC UK, I did not try hard enough to make it reach out beyond its core community – the 3,500 or so individuals who keep the Internet running in the UK. I then gave up when I got no response to my efforts to tell others why and how they could and should get involved. It is now over five years since I last blogged on the need for business users to join Nominet, ICANN, IETF and ISOC to help protect their interests “against” those with very different priorities. I said then that the effort involved in active participation was such that those who were serious would need to share the load – via user groups, their own trade association or professional body and/or groups like the Digital Policy Alliance. I still stand by that view.

The next opportunity  , the UK Network Operators Forum is a get together of the network architects who are creating the inter-operable broadband architectures we take for granted. If you look at the agenda you will see why most business users think this is not for them. Several DPA supplier members will be well represented. But unless you are helping the Communications Management Association (now part of the BCS ) represent your interests, no-one will be speaking for the user community.

Your opportunity to make a difference?

March 2018 sees the biggest opportunity to input UK user views since the IETF last met in London  . Neither Government nor any of the major UK professional bodies or trade associations bothered to greet, let alone meet, them in 2014 – although with the help of Digital Policy Alliance members we were able to organise a policy briefing in the House of Commons and invitations for MPs and officials to attend a reception afterwards.

From March 17th – 21st the IETF has its 101st Meeting in London, hosted by Google and ICANN. The agenda has not yet been fixed. IETF is an engineering democracy and they are calling for proposals. The IETF has been long aware of the way in which technology dissidents (for example girls who dare to play with boys technology toys) can be hounded out of debate by idealogues, trolls and vested interests. Their policy for handling harassment dates back to 2013 and the processes were revised in March 2016,  over a year before the problems with regard to sexual harassment in Silicon Valley finally hit the US press. An IETF event therefore provides an opportunity for well-informed technical discussion about the practical means of addressing the issues of organising balanced, democratic,  debate on- and off-line, on difficult issues. But some-one has to put the issues on the agenda and engage the relevant communities.

Engineers versus regulators, politicians, marketers, lawyers and accountants

Politicians are discovering the need to regulate the algorithms, (including those labelled artificial intelligence), used to censor fake news and provide effective data protection. But the latter are neither new nor separate issues. Both are symptomatic of the failure of ISOC to provide the standards of governance and leadership to which its founders aspired. ISOC failed because it is composed, like the IETF, of human beings. Engineers can be as honest, corrupt, candid, hypocritical, clear sighted and myopic as the rest of mankind. in consequence, the billionaire high priests of the Internet have been able to use a mix of technical and legal obfuscation to hide the secrets of their magic (from magnetic control over IPR to enabling taxable revenues to vanish) from the rest of us. But they may now be as vulnerable as the Knights Templar  after they were driven out of their “special place”, the Holy Land.  The Internet is now a critical infrastructure – underpinning the whole of society. And with that comes a whole new tier of responsibility and accountability.

The Internet, like the medieval Knights Templar, has simple principles for enabling communications across cultures and continents. But it still lacks the equivalent of the trusted identity, authentication and authorisation rituals of the Templars – which they were supposed to keep secret under torture. Those rituals (updated for carriage over telegraph, telephone, fax and data transfer) still underpin correspondence banking today. Meanwhile the rest of the Internet has overlays of complexity which enable pseudonymisation, impersonation and avoidance of intermediary responsibility for error or failure: the “best efforts” approach commonly enables denial of responsibility for probity, reliability, resilience and security unless contracted for specific services.

I would trust the combination of ISOC and IETF more than lawyers, regulators or politicians, to address those failings and to produce, test and implement processes that meet the needs of most of mankind to know with whom they are dealing. I would also trust them to come up with robust processes for inter-operability between commonly used identity and trust architectures. I am less certain, however, whether we can trust the dominant Internet players, let alone Governments, to adopt such processes – unless and until forced to by market pressures. The reasons for that doubt got back many years . But engineers are not good at designing governance processes and the heart of the problem is governance processes that will work across jurisdictional boundaries. For than one has to look to the City of London and bodies like CEDR or Lloyds .

The collapse of faith in democracy, off-line and well as on-line

The world is now awash with fake identities while the information needed to electronically impersonate almost all those worth impersonating can be acquired more easily than most of us can open a new UK bank account. One consequence is that any attempt at on-line democracy risk being swamped by armies of imaginary voters – not just a few catfish creating false identities for personal reasons but million strong groups created to support click fraud with automatically created personalities, mashed up from genuine personal data and evolving over time to bypass bot detection algorithms as the latter also evolve.

Meanwhile the combination of on-line voter registration and postal voting has spread the problem of stolen elections to the off-line world. In the UK, 38% of voter registrations made during the referendum campaign in 2016 are now known to have been duplicates. The Electoral Commission has yet to collate data on the 2017 General Election but preliminary estimates for individual districts range from 30% – 70% with 4.9 million registrations (nearly a million on the last day) giving a net 1.4 million duplicate registrations. The Commission is looking at ways of reducing accidental duplication but is not attempting to estimate how many not only registered from more than one address but voted more than once in the same election. An exercise to do this would be relatively easy, using 1970s technology to compare collated electoral registers with the files of Experian, Call Credit, Lexis Nexis to identify multiple registrations and then check for multiple voting. If the problem is indeed significant (e.g. 20 – 30 seats “stolen” in the 2017 General Election) the means of addressing 90% of the problem may be relatively simple: instituting cut-off dates a fortnight before polling day for both electoral registration and postal voting. This would enable a national exercise to identify duplicates in advance of polling day, with postal votes invalidated and automated court proceedings to each address. This process would not be fool proof but would help restore faith that elections can only be “stolen” by politicians lying to the voters and/or Russian, Macedonian or other fake news stories. The main obstacle appears to be the fear of admitting that the UK still has an election system that would disgrace a banana republic .

One of the joys of social media over the last couple of days has been to watch as Remoaners accuse Brexiteers of “stealing” the referendum, only for evidence to emerge that their own behaviour was even more egregious. But the wipe-out of sources of local news and views as national and international on-line news and advertising media wiped out local journalism, was a heavy price to pay for such joys. Before Christmas I spent three months trying to make sense of the policies of our local authority, how they were actually being implemented and what local residents thought about them. That which used to be covered in the local South London press is now covered nowhere.  I also spent time trying to find a local jeweller to repair a piece that had no value, beyond sentimental. None of the main search engines led me to the one (more an old-fashioned, independent junk repair shop) that I found via an enquiry on Facebook local.

Current Internet business models, not just the war of the algorithms, appear to be in the process of wiping out well-informed democracy in parallel with the local high street and out-of-town shopping mall.


December 24, 2017  1:59 PM

Seasonal security alerts from Herod@Judea.Com

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Christmas

1) Please forward to abuse@judea.com any e-mails or other on-line communications purporting to come from Joseph of Nazareth claiming that he is stuck in a stable near Bethlehem with his pregnant girlfriend.

2) Please be aware that three escaped drug dealers have de-activated their GPS trackers and appear to be following a star. Any information on their whereabouts should be sent to dea@judea.com .

3) Please register and activate the smart communications and tracking facilities installed in the baby toys now available from all reputable shops. They are there to help ensure that those running the “Prevent” programme of the Judean Civil Protection Agency can locate and identify your children as necessary. Those of known bloodlines who have nothing to hide, have nothing to fear.

 


December 18, 2017  12:29 PM

Who speaks for digital employers on their skills needs?

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo

In September it was announced that the UK’s main digital skills partnership, the Tech Partnership, will cease operations next year because central government had decided it wished to deal direct with employers instead of via intermediaries, like the Sector Skills Councils. In November Minister Matt Hancock announced the formation of a Digital Skills Partnership Board. In December the chief executive of the IET called for a coming together to address engineering skills. In January the Tech Partnership will be inviting bids to take over its portfolio of projects

I have a distinct feeling of déjà vu. The last Minister to have a professional IT background, the late John Butcher   announced a similar high level committee but none of the levers of power were in the DTI and by the time it was wound up in 1985 the Butcher Committee had produced only a series of worthy reports. No substantive action followed until Gordon Brown’s Millennium Bugbusters Programme (ten day, intensive hands on courses under industry strength quality control) transformed the supply of microprocessor diagnostic and maintenance skills .

We need a chorus not a cacophony of voices.

At the 2002 IT Skills Summit, John Healey MP, the then Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Skills, announced plans to use e-Skills as a single point of contact for employers confused by the large array of skills initiatives and consultations that had been exposed the previous year  (with one employer logging over 3000 requests for inputs). Unfortunately, he was promoted to the Treasury two hours later and the momentum for radical simplification was lost.

It is unclear what officials currently mean by “dealing direct with employers” or who will be responsible for creating the processes needed. There is, once again, a need to bring together a critical mass of employers to help avoid confusion. The strategy of the Digital Policy Alliance 21CN Skills Group is to use successful local skills partnerships to show what works and help local politicians get re-elected in return for their support. Given the risk of an imminent general election this concentrates minds rather more than lobbying in Westminster .Meanwhile, however, Westminster has “discovered” not only the need to address the student loan time bomb but also the Sutton Trust analyses, which demonstrate that level 4 and 5 apprenticeships improve lifetime earnings more than most degrees.

 

Lifetime earnings, net of repayments – before the recent Student Loan interest rate rise.

From The Sutton TrustLevels of Success

Advanced and higher apprenticeships make more economic sense than degrees for most pupils, parents and employers

A growing number of employers are discovering that well structured blended learning programmes (mixing supervised, experiential on-the-job learning with off-the-job contextual/academic modules) can turn raw talent into revenue earning consultants inside months, not years. In areas of global shortage, like cyber forensics or secure web-site design that is switching attention from competing for supposedly experienced staff or importing skills from overseas towards trawling for raw talent to be harnessed and developed from assistant, to technician to professional, over time.

This approach is not new to the older professions. like law and accounting. There prohibitive cost of housing for graduate trainees means that global players are re-opening school-leaver recruitment for those already live in locally, alongside their traditional “Oxbridge and Russell Group 2.1 and above only”, graduate recruitment programmes. In one bank a former East-End teenage apprentice now manages graduate trainees a couple of years older than her. She is on the high flier programme. Those who joined five years older than her will probably never catch up.

It need not be an either or choice

Apprenticeship or Degree is not, however, an either/or choice. Russell Group Universities are among those working with major engineering employers to organize degree linked apprenticeship programmes. Some employers (e.g. the RN and the RAF) have long had processes for their “apprentices” to do “modified” degree courses at Cambridge – perhaps the best known was Frank Whittle, exempted from both the first year of the tripos and the regulations for undergraduates).

But there are many more schemes planned or offered than are operational. Many, perhaps most, have no employers on board. Meanwhile most employers are confused and/or lack the in-house skills to supervise, monitor and mentor trainees, let alone design their own apprenticeship programmes. And the professional bodies, sector skills councils or trade associations who might have helped them have been “discarded” as “intermediaries”. Hence the need for digital/high tech employers, royal societies, livery companies, professional bodies, trade associations and education/training providers (including, but not just, the IET) to once again work together to simplify and streamline both guidance and consultation processes with Government and the Universities as well as with schools.

Addressing the practical problems: 1) co-operate in creating shared skill incubators

But there are some very real practical problems in restarting the apprenticeship approach to skills. One is the cost and practicality of organizing well-structured practical work experience accompanied by the realistic assessment of competence, not just knowledge. The Plymouth Cybersecurity Skills pilot, which I have described before, has demonstrated the value of a shared skills incubator to provide supervised and structured work experience in a specialist area where few local employers have the necessary inhouse skills. We now know that the shared incubator approach is not as unusual as we had thought. Plymouth adapted an approach to co-operation used locally for construction industry skills (another area of critical national shortage where £30 million was announced in the recent budget). When I visited Portsmouth to discuss a similar partnership, I discovered they already had a least two FE-linked facilities already capable of functioning as shared advanced manufacturing skills incubators.

The Plymouth Pilot has the support of BCS, CISCO, Comptia, IAAC, IET, ISACA, ISC2 and others, as well as the Local Authority, the Local Universities and the FE and Schools networks. The national and international partners are using it to pilot processes for co-operation with each other as well as with local partners. Players from Central Government are beginning to visit. Some of those visits are leading to practical results – for example an agreement to help pilot a key part of the NCA “Prevent” strategy (remotivating and harnessing potential hackers), before the national roll out next year

Addressing the practical problems: 2) co-operate in creating shared information hubs

Meanwhile the plans for a pilot cybersecurity careers portal with schools and college access over one or more of the National Education Network members using the Inspired Careers cybersecurity  have expanded. The proposal is now for the members of the NEN to collectively host a generic careers and materials “hub” with well-posted links to all reputable sources – including those covering all types of STEM, Digital, Fintech and Multi-Media – plus any other industry that cares to use them.

Meetings to plan this and to recruit support are scheduled for the 15th and 16th of January hosted by the IT Livery Company. The members of the NEN procure and support secure connections to about half the schools in England. They are low overhead co-operatives, most owned by Local Authority consortia, with charitable status. They are linked via JANET  and commonly use infrastructure provided by BT, Easynet, Virgin and others. Several are now in discussion with City Fibre, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic as well as with their existing providers, local authorities and others about using the Local Full Fibre Network aggregation programme to use schools as anchor tenants for gigabit services, They are not, however, marketing organisations. Those wishing teachers, pupils and parents to access and use the materials on offer will need to help fund and drive awareness and promotions. The “hub” should, however greatly ease the task of the 20 new careers hubs and in-school career advisors announced to help do this on 4th December by DfE Minister Anne Milton . The intention is that the lead participants will be able to demonstrate their involvement at BETT (24 – 27th January), perhaps with a pilot services already operational. That will enable lead employers to start using the service almost immediately and for it to be fully operational before the first of the new geographic hubs.

The time for reports is over. It is time for action, not words 

In short, the question is not “Who speaks for digital employers on the skills of the future” because the answer is, as it has almost always been, no-one. The question is more: “What are you doing to help yourselves?” That means exploiting what is already on offer from your professional body, trade association, interest group, Chamber of Commerce or LEP.

If you or they wish to join the Digital Policy Alliance and help drive or exploit any of the programmes co-hosted by the 21CN Skills Group, I would be delighted – because my last main role as an advisor is to help recruit a team of those at least thirty (preferably forty) years younger than me – to turn words into action … at long last.


November 14, 2017  11:32 AM

The Taboo Debate: Unreformed Remain is no more serious an option than Clean Brexit

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
Brexit

The United Kingdom is a prisoner of geography. It is part of Europe. Unlike the rest of Europe it is, however, protected from invasion by a natural barrier, the English Channel. There is no natural barrier between Brussels and Moscow other than a few rivers. The imperative behind the “The European Project” is not just the prevention of another war between France and Germany which begins with an invasion of Belgium. It is to protect against another invading horde from the East: whether Mongol or Muslim. The Commission cannot allow “Clean Brexit” to succeed. It needs the only armed forces that kill in cold blood to remain within the Union – it is not “just” our money.

Nor is “Clean Brexit” in the interest of the UK. London has been a pan-EU trading centre and entrepot between the Continent and the “rest of the world” for over a millenium: transitioning over time from long ships and tally sticks to electronic freight forwarding and on-line trading. London is one of the few places in the world where one can do business in whatever language, under whatever law the parties wish. That position is under threat from attempts to create a protectionist hegemony under EU law. London’s economic prosperity is linked, however, to that of our EU partners. Hence the equivocal attitude of those in the City who wish to be able to continue to business under EU law, just as they do under US law or the various schools of Sharia. They want the EU to succeed, so that they can make money out of that success. But they also want the freedom to look outwards to the rest of the world.

At this point we need to unravel a few fantasies – such as how much, or perhaps how little, the economic success of our European trading partners depends on the “achievements” of the European Union. A cruel view of Brussels today is: several thousand lobbyists working to protect the interests of corporate clients and well-funded NGOs by negotiating meaningless harmonisation, sweetened by subsidies and exemptions to pay off politically powerful and well-organised protectionist interest groups (like French farmers, fishermen and lorry drivers). Apart from the customs union and those matters also covered by WTO “rules”, progress towards a genuine single market has been glacial.

To take a few IT-related examples:

  • Why can you not legitimately watch the BBC over iplayer in Brussels?
  • Why do pre-fabricated buildings ordered over the Internet cost so much more in Austria than in Germany?
  • Why can a British lorry driver not do a circular route UK -France – Belgium – Netherlands – Germany – UK, picking up and dropping short-order loads (from parcels to containers) en route?
  • Why is it so much harder to organise the the secure and seamless pan-EU tracking of components/parcels/vehicles along supply chains than it is between the UK and the US or China?

“Never, in the field of human endeavour, have so many worked to long and so expensively to achieve so little”: so many convoluted exercises to agree common processes which are ignored or bypassed by those who dominate global markets but condemn indigenous suppliers to playing catch up in their own domestic markers.

During the run up to the referendum I nailed my colours to the mast, saying why I would vote Remain.

I now know I was wrong.

Leaving does indeed appear to the only way to bring about the reforms necessary to make it worth remaining. Michel Barnier and Davis Davis are doing an excellent job, given that both have been given impossible terms of reference. Unless and until changed these will not prevent impasse before the UK stops paying more than the legal minimum and the Commission finances collapse. Hence the current attempts by Brussels and its allies to collapse the UK Government before that happens.  But we need the EU to be reformed, not weakened, let alone destroyed.

The “solution” is akin to that adopted by Alexander the Great in Phrygia, by then a decaying but still pretentious province of a crumbling Empire. Depending on who you believe, he pulled the linch pin from the yoke of the cart, thus enabling the Gordian knot to be unraveled from within.

We need to accept that agreement on a comprehensive package is impossible, let alone by March 2019 – whether or not we could agree financial terms. Without fundamental changes in negotiating positions which are impossible for either side to publicly agree, the talks will indeed collapse. We should, therefore allow them to do, while focusing, in parallel, on what we want the relationship after 2019 to be. That way may, paradoxically, be the best way of saving them.

But to do so, we need to go public on our “true” strategy, while allowing the actual talks to proceed in private.  In public we should also focus on the positive, not the “red lines”.

We should state:

  • which research programmes we are happy to continue funding (perhaps making unconditional funding commitments),
  • which new programmes we would like to see (e.g. active co-operation on developing the skills of the future with a pan-EU dimension to global programmes).
  • which freedoms of movement, reimbursement of health care costs, transfers of benefits etc. we are happy to agreed payment,
  • which WTO disputes processes we would like to see used on those areas within its purlieu where we disagree (probably not many),
  • how we would like to see mediation on those areas outside the remit of the WTO where we cannot reach agreement,
  • which overhead costs and other financial commitments we are happy to accept, subject to independent audit and disagreement should be handled,

and that we are happy to accept a series of longer term programmes to discuss (separately from the arbitration/mediation process) not only the areas of disagreement but also new opportunities for co-operation, with no artificial time constraint or prior commitment.

The prime aim is to enable relatively painless switch from an impossible process to one which can reach an interim agreement by 2019 on the 80 -90% that is uncontroversial while politely kicking the rest into the long grass – for attention over time. A subsidiary aim is  to focus the lobbyists efforts on what their clients want at the practical level and on working in co-operation to achieve this.

I know that idea of public negotiation is taboo (and all IT salesmen are trained to avoid a menu sales pitch lest the customer does a pick and mix) but one of the core complaints about the EU is its “democratic deficit”. Meanwhile the referendum result and that of the election earlier this year showed how little the British public outside London trusts the Westminster Village or shares the values of the Metrosexual (deliberate Freudian slip) Elite. We will not carry the British public, let alone public opinion in other parts of the EU, with “yet another stitch up behind closed doors”. Given the impact of social media, let alone supposed Russian cybermeddling, the leaks over time may soon build into the revolutionary flood of 2018 (c.f. 1848 and 1968) – as students across Europe (except the UK) blame (rightly or wrongly) the EU for their lack of worthwhile employment opportunities.

If they ally with the Farmers, Fishermen, Lorry and Taxi drivers and others whose earnings are being driven down by the current wave of immigrants, I doubt that the new embryonic European Army, let alone the Belgian Police, will be able to protect the Berlaymont from a rioting mob and the Parlement will have to retreat to its expensive funkhole, alias “official seat”, in Strasbourg.

 


November 12, 2017  11:39 AM

No “end of jobs”: debunking the cyclical AI/Robotics hype

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
ai, apprenticeships, Robotics

The first recorded prophecies of the “death of work” came in the later days of the Roman Empire where the spread of water wheels led to collapse in the price of slaves in Dalmatia. In the 16th Century clockwork automata (alias robots) were fashionable and about as useful as most of the domestic robots of today, albeit very much more expensive. As a student I enjoyed reading Thomas Love Peacock‘s comments on the similar arguments that accompanied the industrial revolution. Meanwhile his “day job” was at The East India Office, organising the telegraphic communications across India and back to London, helping transform the world beyond the most far fetched dreams and nightmares of  those he satirised.

In 1977 the BBC Horizon Programme “Now the Chips are Down” triggered a series of studies into the “death of work” that would follow the micro-electronics revolution. I represented my ASTMS on that organised by the TUC for the then Labour Government. I was introduced by the General Secretary at one event as “the acceptable face of the Tory Party, he pays the levy”. At the same time I was working, via what is now the Conservative Science and Technology Forum, on policy studies to handle the implications. “Cashing in on the Chips” (published in 1979) was one the best selling CPC pamphlets of all time and I spent nearly an hour on the Jimmy Young programme explaining that “In ten years time when North Sea oil peaks out, the price of energy in the UK will soar. In twenty years time our workforce will shrink as a result of the fall in the birth rate, while the number of senior citizens to be supported will continue to grow. The wealth creating potential of the Chip revolution is our best way out of the combination of crises that loom over Britain.

The key to realising that potential is to remove the fear of unemployment so that change is welcomed not resisted. This requires freedom of movement to enable the worker redundant in one job, trade or town to move without excessive tribulation to another. Government action is needed to: …

Some of the actions were implemented to time, such as “a microcomputer … in every secondary school in Britain by 1982” although the “appropriate teaching material to support staff” did not even begin to arrive until several years later and the budget of the “Micro-electronics support unit” was a fraction of the “ten times the hardware budget” I had specified in the support papers.

In 1982 I was asked to present to the UK technical press on the educational implications of the rise of AI and Artificial Intelligence and I recently put the original paper on “Learning for Change: training, retraining and life-long education  for multi-career lives” back on line – because the analysis and conclusions are once again apposite.

Then in 1984 the first page of “No End of Jobs” concluded with a stark warning: “If we do not make better use of technology to create more wealth and simultaneously release and equip manpower to take better care of the elderly, you and I will grow old and cold alone, in the dark.

We may have addressed the “problem” of a falling indigenous birthrate by opening the floodgates to immigration, but there is still no sign of our making serious progress in deploying the technologies available to help provide humane and efficient care for frail and elderly (about to include my contemporaries and myself) at affordable cost.

Meanwhile I look at the applications of AI and Robotics being hyped today.

In this area, as with most of the so-called “Smart City” and “Big Data” applications “Tomorrow came yesterday”. Many have already been done successfully using earlier generations of technology – albeit often by organisations with little or no reason to spend time or money telling others what they have done.  Many require large numbers of technicians to install and maintain and/or a robust and reliable digital communications infrastructure that we have not yet got. I composed this while my terrestrial broadband was down (fault at the Gypsy Hill exchange). The service has just come back after 16 hours. Were I in the rural area that might not be unusual but for a not very leafy London Suburb …  More-over the outage was “only” over Saturday night … but it reinforced my reluctance to trust business systems, let alone, my personal care to any services that rely on “always on” Internet connections.

Perhaps if we did not have such a chronic shortage of those with the technician level skills (hardware as well as software) to understand, develop, install and maintain AI and Robotics systems we would have less hype and more practical progress. I say technician level, because almost all are akin to those in the old BTEC/HNC qualifications. There is a particular need to include a good grounding in basic statistics and security by design, without which the computer scientists and electrical engineers of today are part of the problem – not the solution. We need to retrain, and perhaps certificate and register, most so-called “professionals” before they are employed in this area.

I get bored talking about professionalism but do make time to blog on the work currently under way to organise level 3 digital apprenticeships – with specialism from cyber and security by design, through AI, Robotics and Big Data to IOT applications. Meanwhile it is interesting to note that, according to a recent Sutton Trust Report leaving school at 16 to get a Level 3 apprenticeship is worth marginally more than staying on to do ‘A’ levels. Meanwhile a level 4 apprenticeship is worth the same as a non Russell Group degree and a level 5 is worth more. I am told, however, that it is harder to get onto some of the leading level 5 digital apprenticeship courses than into Oxbridge!

 


September 29, 2017  1:06 PM

Breaking Open the Graduate Digital Careers Ghetto – A guest blog

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
apprenticeships

On 19th September the Digital Policy Alliance 21CN Skills Group reviewed its draft paper “Addressing the skills needs of post Brexit Britain” and its own plans for helping bring about the changes needed. I also invited participants to contact me afterwards about the points they did not have time to make. Julia Von Klonowski (currently Director of Digital at the Career Colleges Trust and previously Director of Education at Oracle) got on her soap box and contributed the guest blog below.

But first I would like to comment on my own conclusions from the meeting. Nothing will work until we address the confusopoly of initiatives and programmes with neither promotion or marketing budgets beyond a press release for the launch.

I am pleased to say that those around the table agreed to bypass the political problems of co-ordination across organisational boundaries and set about cross-referring to each other’s programmes and information services. Hopefully this will lead to improved awareness of those which work and to co-operation in moving towards shared updating services, with promotion via the former Grids for Learning, now the members of the National Educational Network.  These are the procurement co-operatives which collectively provide broadband to over 60% of schools.

The provision of careers and advice and guidance in schools could be transformed if employers looking for local native talent were to work with and through the Grids to provide and promote careers material that is attractive to teachers, pupils and parents. Once adolescents and their parents discover degree level apprenticeships, leading to well-paid careers not crippling debts, we will see the student debt-funded Ponzi scheme unravel . We will see Universities competing instead to work with employers to deliver the skills of the future – using the government funding and tax breaks for apprenticeships, the grant and levy scheme and the revenues from Tier 2 visas to organise a variety of programmes linked to under-graduate and post graduate modular degrees.

But what about getting the younger generation ready for the opportunities that will be on offer …

= = =

Now I hand this blog to Julia …

“I promised to send through a synopsis of some of the points I made so here it is – apologies if I seem to be soap boxing but, as many of us do, I feel that we have to discuss effective actions to make certain we are not in the same position in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years time. These are my personal views and I know some people will disagree with me but here goes anyway!  At least it should start an interesting discussion. One of the reasons I work with Career Colleges is because they are working at trying to solve some of the problems below and are dedicated to making certain that young people are prepared for a career. I was fascinated to hear of Brian’s work with autistic children – please can you send me his email address?

Michael’s project [The Plymouth Cybersecurity Skills Partnership on which I recently blogged] is so exciting because he has succeeded in doing something about one of the issues we have in the Digital world and is directing young people’s interests in an innovative and effective way as well as providing them with the skills they need for a career.

The many employers I speak to and work with are asking a very basic question : “Where are we going to find the skills we need now and in the future”. We have all heard the comments that our education system is not producing the skills businesses require. Many businesses and organisations are currently focusing on a very narrow pipeline – namely graduates and that is not a large enough cohort to draw from. Often the degrees people are exiting university with, do not match the skills needs of the Digitech industry. We do not currently spend the same energy on the potential pipeline from the non-university students, disadvantaged, women/girls, special needs (Brian spoke about this with great eloquence) , returners (ie women returning to work after children), those needing to change careers (redundancies) etc etc and we definitely do not “turn on” our young people early enough to the many exciting careers in technology. We know we are not teaching Digital morality, etiquette etc effectively to our youth and definitely not early enough. A 4 year old is only 14 years away from being a potential skill and contributor to our economy and society. It is key that we start planning now to make certain that as many young people as possible are in a position to take advantage of the requirement for their skills and making certain they have the skills that make them valuable.

We discussed “content” but often the education offerings and programs/qualifications are “preaching to the converted” and we are not persuading people who are not yet interested in this sector. Plus a great deal of “content” is now out of date. Hence we lose potential talent. The progression figures from GCSE to “A” Levels/apprenticeships and progression into Digital careers are still worrying for girls even if they have done really well at GCSE STEM subjects.  There are many studies that show the gender bias starts from early in life and unfortunately is perpetuated by parents and teachers.

Experis Geoff Smith “Traditional perceptions need challenging, starting in early education and continuing throughout our careers. In addition, the opportunities that the tech industry offers – it’s innovative, fast-paced, exciting and stimulating – need to be better communicated to girls from a young age, so they aren’t routed down paths that are less tech-focused when it comes to their studies and future careers,” he says. “Everyone is responsible for addressing the issue, from the government, businesses and the wider tech industry to parents, families and peer groups”

The question many students ask is “what am I learning this for” – and without context we know that it is more difficult to learn. If the ultimate goal is university then they may be learning in order to pass exams (the gateway) to the next stage but if that is not the goal then, unless we provide a reason,  many young people are lost in the education system and they direct their interests elsewhere (gaming, dark web, online  – all of which we have little control over because much of it is not included in our education system and their use of the technologies is not necessarily transferable to careers in the industry, or they don’t have the business skills that are required). Our Careers Advice and introduction has to improve so that the learning context is set so much earlier. Nursery, infant even primary children have such immense curiosity so my question would be “at what stage are we turning off our young people from learning?”.

  1. Staff – CPD and Careers Advice

In my opinion this is one of the main barriers to young people seeking Digital careers. It was appalling when I was at school and it does not appear to be any better. There is a lack of Digital knowledge on the part of the staff, teaching and advising our young people,  (ie they haven’t heard of IoT, don’t understand the growth of how Data  is being used,  the many uses of gaming in heath, defence, education etc,  Cybersecurity, Cloud , AI, Smart technologies etc etc etc)  and the lack of knowledge re the various careers available. It is difficult to find employers who are willing to give education staff the experience in the current technology world and it is very difficult for them to stay up to date in an ever changing and fast moving environment. Teachers are often restricted and bound by out of date qualifications and experience.

According to various surveys there is a gender bias amongst teachers and parents as demonstrated by a survey carried out last month by Atomik Research for Centrica.

Almost a third of male secondary school teachers think science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers are more for boys than girls. The research highlights a gender divide among teachers and pupils when it came to careers in Stem.

29 % of female teachers say they are “not at all confident” in their understanding of Stem careers, compared to 15 % of male teachers. Among pupils, 27 % of girls say Stem careers are not for them, compared to 14 % of boys. Almost half of pupils, 44 %, say they could not think of any female role models in Stem.

The vast majority of teachers want businesses to have a greater role in giving pupils information about Stem careers.

The survey finds that although 61 % of pupils say teachers are influential in helping them decide their next steps after secondary schools, 30 % of teachers do not feel adequately informed about all the options available to pupils.  69 % of teachers say they would like more information, training and guidance from business about Stem careers.

In February, a survey for the Baker Dearing Educational Trust found that almost two-thirds of young people working in science, technology and engineering careers believe that schools do not understand which skills employers are going to need.

There is a thought provoking  “Inspiring the Future” video which shows how early this gender bias exhibits itself.

  1. Career Ready
    In many Education Institutions there is a nod to Project Based Learning and sometimes that is because they find it difficult to work with business or to attract businesses to work with them. Too often they think that setting up an Employer Advisory Board is sufficient but many businesses do not want to attend regular talking shops although they are happy to work on a shorter projects. Employers are looking for young people with various abilities including the right “attitude”, able to present themselves well both in the written and verbal sense , critical thinking, and with the ability to work in a team . Whilst many private schools and good state schools work on these attributes , many education institutions do not stress these skills or do not have time or the ability to develop skills that make people career ready. There are many reasons for this such as English as a second language, poverty, lack of parental involvement, special needs, learning dificulties. Parents/guardians also have a responsibility to develop these attributes. If young people don’t understand that these skills are necessary for progression then they will not see the point of developing them. They also think that their personal use of Social Media and technology will translate into the digital requirements of business and we know that the two areas have very different requirements- Instagram, Twitter for Digital marketing are very different from putting up a live video of an evening out with your peers.  Involving our students in projects with businesses often helps to highlight the need for developing these skills.

I am shocked at the number of young people who enter FE without literacy skills in English and maths or qualifications in these two crucial subjects. The CVER report “Building Skills for All: A Review of England” reveals that 9 million people in this country do not have basic numeracy and literacy skills, including 10% of those at university.

  1. Successful projects generally have a driver or champion who makes certain that there is progress to the end goal  – this includes motivation, direction, communication.4. Good citizens – I believe that is important to include being a “good citizen” in all our projects and learning.  Hence many of the Digital projects I run involve a “charitable” element so that young people begin to understand the problems our society needs to address and also that they develop empathy.5. Mentors There are many young people who do not have a “mentor” or role model in their life and some at 16  (or younger) are living on their own, looking after younger siblings, ailing parents etc etc. It is difficult to “learn” when you are dealing with all these external issues but we try to help them to understand that education can help them with solving some of these problems and at least give them choices.


September 9, 2017  1:30 PM

The “Great British Broadband Boost” is ringfenced for BT.

Philip Virgo Profile: Philip Virgo
backhaul, Broadband, BT, competition, fttc, Gigaclear, Openreach

The DCMS Press release headlined “The Great British Broadband Boost” needs to be put in context.  The “boost” comprises £465 million clawback from BT (because take-up was greater than that on which the BDUK contracts were based) plus £180 million underspend (the amount below contract actually spent in order to achieve local 90% “access” targets).  According to the press release £200 million of this has already been committed.

The reinvestment criteria for the clawback and underspend were summarised by DCMS in 2014 . Unless these have been changed, it can only be spent via BT to improve access in those areas where take-up was most over contract and/or the spend to achieve the “access” targets was most under budget.  Alternatively Local Authorities can ask for their share to sit on BT’s balance sheet, accumulating interest, before they can reclaim it, in about 2020.

The local authorities concerned and the take-up rates on which the clawback amount are based were summarised by ISPreview this morning. The tables also show how the gap between headline claims of “passed by” and the “take up” numbers vary: from 31% in Merseyside to 55.6% in Rutland (home of the UK’s first FTTC connection). The actual service received by those connected to “Superfast” can however vary wildly. In some cases speeds can actually go down not up. Some of the newly announced FTTP “pilots” are in areas where residents have not received the expected improvements from Phases 1 and/or 2.  Others appear to be adjacent to areas where competitors to BT are already offering faster speeds.

[See footnote for explanation of change to the paragraph as originally posted]

The recent announcements by BT and DMCS and the accompanying radio interviews, imply that BT is expecting local authorities to allow it to spend the claw back on whatever gives it (BT) the best return in retaining existing customers or acquiring new customers while moving towards a 95% “access” target. Matthew Hare’s offer on the Today programme this morning for Gigaclear to fill one of the consequent gaps, without requiring an upfront contribution, helps illustrate the limitations on those who will benefit, as well as the extent to which they will do so. It also illustrates the contrast between what will be on offer from BT (usually extended FTTC and/or alternative technologies offering 10 – 24mbps) and that which Gigaclear is rolling out.

Matthew Hare also made a throwaway comment which illustrates the pressures on BT. Players like City Fibre, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic now have serious backing from pension funds and institutional investors. They see utility fibre communications providers as an attractive long term investment. By contrast BT is seen as a risky hybrid. There is a fear that its content and systems integration operations may contain yet more accounting nasties. In consequence its share price, and ability to attract low cost finance, are in the doldrums.

Perhaps the next big “boost” to British Broadband will be a decision by BT to do its own break-up.

There are signs that Openreach is preparing for this by taking a very much more positive attitude towards infrastructure partnership deals with competitors to BT Retail and BT Wholesale.  Meanwhile BT’s main staff expansion programmes are on maintenance and security, including bringing operations back from India. It would make very good sense, as part of its positioning as a trusted utility, for BT to provide high quality secure services for the UK communications and content industries as whole, not just to sort its own problems, e.g. leaks from Indian call centres,

Meanwhile, however, the growing take-up of local broadband is putting severe strain on the national backhaul infrastructure with its many shared points of vulnerability (to fire, flood, equipment/cable theft not just hardware/software failure). Hence the importance of the work of the DPA  Digital Infrastructure Group on topics like Backhaul and Maintenance Competition and (in co-operation with the DPA 21CN Skills Group) independently certified skills.

FOOTNOTE

I received the following e-mail from the Better Connected Project Team in West Sussex Council:

Your comment: “The tables also show how the gap between headline claims of “passed by” and the “take up” numbers vary: from 23.9% in West Sussex (where a full fibre pilot has been announced because the speeds available over FTTC are so dire)”  has raised some eyebrows here in West Sussex!

The take up figures compiled by DCMS and quoted by ISP review as its source material  were incorrect. The figure of 23.9% was used as the take up total for both the BDUK phase one and phase two totals.

The correct total for BDUK phase one take up is 46.1%. The total for BDUK phase two take up is 23.9%.

DCMS have corrected the source document, a google doc emailed out to accompany the press release. They are also alerting ISP Review to the error.

Last week’s announcement by the Treasury noting that West Sussex has been chosen as a full fibre pilot area has nothing to do with current speeds, which we expect to be a minimum of ‘superfast’ for 95%  of the county by the end of the year. Independent website ThinkBroadband concur that 94.8% of homes and businesses already have access to ‘superfast’ broadband: https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/west-sussex,E10000032

I was therefore please to amend the blog to read as above. I should perhaps add that the map of actual broadband speeds published by the Consumer Association indicates an average speed of 15.9 Mbps for Chichester and 19.7 Mbps for Arun. This is consistent with the speeds achieved by relatives who were upgraded to “Superfast” last year (and whose systems I have used while staying with them).

 


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