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In December 2020, Red Hat commissioned a Europe-wide study with YouGov and Kantar Sifo, reaching more than 30,000 respondents to learn about the new skills they’ve taken up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were curious about the impact COVID-19 has had on digital upskilling. 

What we learned

Computer programming and software development are the number one skills survey respondents are taking up to help improve career prospects. It is one of a number of new hobbies survey respondents have chosen to take up over the past 10 months, as many look to reskill for new career opportunities in an increasingly digital world.

We commissioned YouGov which surveyed 27,188 adults (aged 18+) in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, and Kantar SIFO which surveyed 3,000 adults in Sweden. We wanted to find out how many people have chosen to learn a new skill since the beginning of the pandemic and what has driven them to do so.

The findings indicate a desire from respondents across Europe to reskill. With the majority working from home full-time, there is more opportunity to spend time learning new skills, and a wealth of online resources at their fingertips.

1 in 20 survey respondents take up computer programming or software development 

On average one in 20 respondents (5%) reported that they have chosen to take up computer programming or software development as a new skill since the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020. Spain showed the greatest uptick of new coders with one in 10 respondents (10%) taking it up as a new skill, followed by Italy (8%), France (6%), Sweden (6%), Germany (5%) and the UK (4%).

Interest was noticeably higher among survey respondents in the Generation Z age group, with more than one in 10 respondents (12%) aged 18-24 choosing to take up computer programming in Europe. Gen Z respondents in Italy and Spain were amongst the highest new coders with 18% and 14% respectively. 

Improving career prospects was a top driver for taking up new skills

When asked about their motivations for up-skilling, 35% of all respondents were driven by employment opportunities, while 54% said it was to improve their mental or physical wellbeing and 53% said purely as a hobby or passion project. In Sweden, 73% of respondents took up a new skill as a hobby or passion project, significantly more than the other countries.

Out of each skill listed, computer programming had the highest proportion of respondents driven by new employment opportunities, alongside those learning animation and graphic design. 

Nearly two thirds of new coders (65%) said their motivation was to reskill for a new job or career: either to kickstart a new career (29%), learn a new skill for a future job (51%) or out of fear of losing their current job (17%). This was followed by those taking it up as a hobby or passion project (52%), for mental/physical wellbeing (44%) and for career development in their current role (32%). 

The top skills taken up by YouGov survey respondents for job-related purposes, since March 2020 (as a percentage of those who selected each skill):

  1. Coding (or a form of computer programming/software development) - 65%

  2. Animation or graphic design - 65%

  3. Personal development courses (e.g. leadership/management courses) - 64%

  4. Academic courses (e.g. open university courses) - 64%

  5. Film-making or video editing - 58%

  6. First aid training - 57%

  7. Design (e.g. training in interior design, gardening/landscaping etc.) - 55%

  8. Language learning - 48%

  9. Writing (e.g. writing a book/starting a blog) - 46%

  10. Photography - 44%

  11. Skills relating to music or drama - 44%

  12. Cooking/catering - 36%

  13. Crafts (e.g. knitting, painting, drawing, etc.) - 31%

These results come after the pandemic has sparked a significant boost to tech and digital industries. Over the last 10 months, businesses have digitised their services at a pace and scale never before seen, which has led to a dramatic increase in employers looking for digital skills. with software development, engineering, data science and AI roles all in demand, according to LinkedIn data.

The majority of survey respondents learning to code do not have a technical background

Digital-Transformation-Minispot-Technology-illustration-quote copy_Blog-thumbnail.pngOur study suggests a large proportion of those up-skilling digitally may be transitioning from a different industry. Of the four out of five respondents describing themselves as new coders, 79% have not previously worked in technology and 71% did not study a STEM degree.

Almost half (44%) come from a non-technical job sector, compared to only one fifth (21%) who come from a job in technology or IT, while 7% have not been previously employed. 

Computer programming is more than just a career

As the study shows, computer programming and software development are seen as important skills for finding a new job or growing a career in technology, but it’s a skill that goes beyond just career opportunities. The study showed that 52% of those respondents learning to code are doing so purely as a hobby or passion, and a further 44% said it was to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.

Computer programmers who are driven exclusively by a passion for technology is nothing new. Open source communities have always thrived on the participation of hobbyists or volunteer contributors, many of whom don’t necessarily have formal qualifications or work in the technology industry.

Open source is not just for developers

Open source communities and projects are not just for developers. They involve people from all walks of life, including writers, artists, designers and QA testers - there’s a role for almost anyone. 

Whatever your interests, there is an open source project for you and no matter what your skills are, there is a way for you to contribute.

How Red Hat can help

Red Hat offers many resources to help people kick-start a career in computer programming or software development and take these skills to the next level:

  • Open source communities are a fantastic resource for people learning to code for the first time, enabling them to work on real world projects and learn from other coders who have knowledge and experience to share. For example, the Fedora project has a website - What can I do for Fedora - to help new contributors know how and where to start.

  • For those looking to bridge the gap between education and industry, Red Hat has made it easier for anyone to invest in open source knowledge. Since April 2020, we have delivered more than 500,000 free Technical Overviews as part of our catalogue of free online training courses, and worked with organizations like EdX to deliver free self-paced virtual training courses to more than 80,000 students. 

  • Red Hat also offers educational programs like CO.LAB, which introduces school-age students to the world of technology and open source, and Red Hat Academy. Red Hat Academy gives member academic institutions and their students training in Linux, cloud and application development, with different options for lab environments and comprehensive no-cost online content.. Its courses are designed to build the skills needed to embrace the challenges students may encounter on the job. 

The future is digital, and while there is a digital skills gap across Europe, it’s positive to see there is so much interest in learning to code, particularly from those with non-technical backgrounds.


About the author

Werner Knoblich is Senior Vice President and General Manager for the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region at Red Hat. In this role, he is responsible for developing and executing the company’s business strategy across the region. His primary focus is on sales, marketing, and services.