Failure to plug digital skills gap costs UK £63bn a year
Digital The digital economy is booming as technology helps business and improves public services. Yet a lack of digital skills will inhibit econimic growth. How can this be tackled?
Government statistics claim that 12.6m UK adults lack basic digital skills and only 35 per cent of computer teachers have a relevant degree. For a country that in many ways leads the world when it comes to tech, these figures from Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee should worry all of us. The Committee says that failing to ensure that today’s and tomorrow’s workforce have the digital skills employers need is costing the UK economy £63bn a year in lost GDP.
So how can the country plug the digital skills gap?
The government has a digital strategy which wants more collaboration between politicians, industry and the education sector. There is a call to make digital skills a core component of all apprenticeships and for industry representatives to visit universities to offer career advice and help provide code conversion courses. It should also be easier for smaller businesses to get the digital skills they desperately need today from abroad while the UK skills shortage is tackled head-on, government believes.
“The opportunities are there,” says Karen Price OBE, Chief Executive at employer network the Tech Partnership. “The Partnership’s recent research shows that almost 40 per cent of employers are having difficulty finding candidates with the right digital skills, despite attractive salaries. Given the sector’s importance to the economy – gross value added from the digital industries is over £100bn a year - this is of real concern.
Even roles and industries which were traditionally not technologically dependent now require digital skills, or at least an understanding of how technology impacts business.
"Bringing people into business at an early age and equipping them with the skills they need is essential," says Price. “The Tech Partnership supports careers guidance in schools, develops and promotes digital apprenticeships, and works with universities to create courses that teach employability skills alongside academic rigour. Examples are our Software Development for Business and IT Management for Business degrees, which have exceptional employment outcomes.” With privacy and security issues increasingly important to businesses large and small, cyber security is one of the Tech Partnership’s specific focus areas. Price also wants to see more women attracted into digital careers – only 17 per cent of tech specialists currently are female.
The challenge is to inspire new and diverse talent into digital careers through schools resources and ambassador programmes, and to raise the quality of digital skills training and education. Government is keen to see training standards set and appropriate degrees developed. Employers require advice so they can provide quality digital apprenticeships programmes that meet the job market’s current and on-going needs.
The digital skills gap risks holding back the UK’s growth so it is in everyone’s interests that young people and those already in the workplace have the talents needed for today and for the future.