Why and how Britain needs to plug the digital skills gap

We are currently in destabilising times, and things such as Brexit, PM Theresa May announcing a shock snap election, and the triggering of article 50 have certainly made it worth reflecting on how the digital sector may be impacted.

A 2017 Tech Nation report revealed that digital tech industries contribute £97bn to the UK economy, and the UK’s tech sector grew 50% faster than the whole economy in 2015.

Figures from a 2017 Department for Culture, Media and Sport policy paper, revealed that around 1.4 million people are currently employed by digital companies in the UK, with figures set to rise. Digital employment is estimated to grow by 5% by 2020, and contribute £200 billion to the UK economy by 2025.

We can see that the IT & Tech sector is of course growing constantly, and with that comes an evident skills gap with a surge of job opportunities, but what is being done to control the dearth of qualified IT specialists?

Hiring from overseas is going to become increasingly difficult post Brexit, therefore it will be vital to foster home-grown talent. Many employers and recruiting specialists are experiencing a skills gap when attempting to fill tech roles, and it could be time to take the focus back to school and on encouraging the young.

Thanks to a 2014 government initiative, coding replaced ITC in schools, giving new generations the opportunity to develop complex digital skills from a young age.

The government has the potential to make a positive step forward when it comes to the digital skills gap, by placing investment in teacher training, introduction of new courses, bursaries and training loans – all of which could help create a nation full of digital expertise.

It is important to also promote and encourage STEM careers to school aged children, who may be unsure of what jobs are available and have had little exposure.

Accenture’s Emma McGuigan said, “Currently, a significant proportion of young people, especially girls, are put off by Stem [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] subjects because they are unclear about what careers they support, while the perception that these subjects are just for boys persists.”

The problem can often lie in a lack of qualified teachers, therefore better training is crucial. The Science and Technology Committee in a 2016 report revealed that only 35% of computer teachers in UK schools have a relevant degree, and 30% of required computer science teachers have not yet been recruited.

The Google Expeditions team began visiting primary schools in 2016, introducing Virtual Reality to the classroom. VR is predicted to drastically change many parts of our lives, and is being anticipated to play an important role in education.

In November, Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai UK visited a London school to see students using Google’s Cardboard VR headsets, to experience virtual reality as part of their education.

“Today we are taking a class through one of our new career Expeditions, which inspires students to think about their future professions by taking a virtual trip to work environments like a hospital operating theatre or behind the scenes at Aston Martin” said Pichai.

Learning to code and being exposed to developing technology is vital for young people in order to become equipped with the necessary digital skills to fuel our economy.

Technology is advancing rapidly, and employers can benefit from up to date in-house training, and keeping digital sector employees proficient in all skill areas. Offering a high level of staff development will make it easier to retain quality staff members, and ensure the company’s IT services are up to date.

IT and Tech is now a candidate dominated field, with skilled personnel now able to be selective and demanding when pursuing a role in the digital sector. For businesses, this means healthy competition to gain the edge and attract the kind of talent they desire.

From offering enticing packages with flexible working prospects, the promise of consistent training, detailed salary progression, to positive development opportunities, businesses must decide what their unique selling points are to a perspective recruit.

A Nimbus Ninety and Ensono report highlighted the need for new skills in digital transformation, with two thirds of decision makers claiming that they do not have the skills to service new IT models.

47% of companies are rethinking their business models and drawing up a digital transformation strategy, with more than a third of these working with a consultancy or design agency to help plug the skills gap.

Government initiatives, collaborations between business and education sectors, and businesses tailoring packages, could be the key drive in helping Britain reduce and potentially clear the wide digital skills gap, providing us with a talented new generation of tech professionals.

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