There's lots of debate going on about the value of teaching coding in schools in Australia right now, much of it not very well-informed. But if you ask workplace experts, the consensus is clear: we need more focus in education on this area.
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I raised the topic of teaching coding in schools during a panel on the future of work hosted by job search site Indeed.com as part of Sydney's Vivid festival, and there was a clear consensus: this is an area that matters.
"Those skills are very important," said Geni Dechter, UNSW Business School macroeconomics professor. "They may not be crucial for everyone all the time, but it's something to build in. It's very important to integrate technology. Technology will be the universal skill."
"There's no doubt there's positive economic impact from building a population with software and engineering skills," said Paul D'Arcy, senior vice president for Indeed.com.
While the argument is sometimes made that it's too difficult to predict which languages or coding concepts would be the most useful, this is already a problem we have to grapple with. "One of the problems we have is we're hiring people to find solutions to problems we don't even know we have," said Zrinka Lovrencic, managing director for Great Place to Work Institute Australia.
Without those skills in place, we'll continue to be an economy that imports engineering expertise. D'arcy points out that Australian cities (and Sydney in particular) are already seen as highly desirable places to work, which makes them a sensible location for companies like Google to set up engineering outposts. "For Google, wherever there's a critical mass of engineers, they want to be there."