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UK government must do more to harness home-grown IT talent, says Digital Skills Taskforce

Kayleigh Bateman

The UK government must do more to harness home-grown IT talent, according to an independent report from the UK Digital Skills Taskforce.

Led by Maggie Philbin, former Tomorrow’s World presenter, technology broadcaster and chief executive of TeenTech, the UK Digital Skills Taskforce was commissioned by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

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The Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World report aimed to gain an insight into the IT skills crisis to make recommendations to all political parties ahead of next year's general election.

The recommendations said the government should invest at least a further £20m by 2020 to help embed the new computing curriculum in schools across England, which will commence this September. The report revealed that the current funding is at £3.5m which equates to just £175 per school.

It has also recommended that computing should become a fourth "core science" and that a digital component should be included in education and training opportunities up to the age of 19.

Maggie Philbin, chair of the UK Digital Skills Taskforce said it was only when she joined Tomorrow's World when she understood how amazing the technology industry was. "It's important to help people understand that," she said. 

"The UK has an amazing heritage when it comes to computing, but it was extraordinary how many people didn’t know who Tim Berners-Lee was until opening ceremony of Olympic Games."

The report also calls for apprenticeship schemes to be simplified to enable more digital businesses, particularly SMEs, to invest in apprentices, according to the report, and partnerships between schools and business should be fostered through a new "Digital challenge for schools" initiative to showcase career opportunities.  

Furthermore, it recommends that sandwich years and industrial placements should be expanded for computer science students and that university computer science departments should create Industrial Advisory Boards to enable them to keep up to date with industry developments.

The report has also highlighted how basic digital skills should be extended to all of the UK by 2020, through government investment and sharing the cost with businesses and charities in the digital sector.

Philbin added: “Britain is in the midst of another industrial revolution and only by engendering the spirit that allowed us to thrive so well in the first will we succeed in the second. For this to happen we need our young people to see technology and related applied sciences as a future that they can help create.

“If you have the right skills, if you have the right network, if you have the right attitude, this is a time of opportunity. We have to make sure we equip everyone in the UK for the digital revolution. Not just a fortunate few.”

The Science Council has estimated that the IT workforce will grow 39% by 2030 and a report from O2 in 2013 estimated 745,000 additional workers with digital skills will be needed to meet the growing needs of employers between 2013 and 2017.

Meanwhile, in March 2014 it was reported that 975,000 young people are not in education, employment or training. At this time Microsoft also revealed that 100,000 vacancies were unfulfilled in its partner companies across the UK.

Research from O2 also discovered that nearly a quarter of parents would prefer children to prefer traditional careers over digital. "Parents and teachers need to change their perspectives," said Philbin. "And it's really clear that our education system has to change to give young people the foundations they need to succeed in a digital economy."

The Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World report will be presented to the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, at a launch event at Telefonica’s Wayra Academy in London today.

Philbin launched TeenTech in 2008 with the aim of helping young people understand the opportunities available to them in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workplace. TeenTech runs one-day events across the UK, offering hands-on exhibits and workshops from businesses and universities. Some 300 pupils from 30 different schools are invited to each event.

Philbin was featured in Computer Weekly’s Top 25 most influential women in UK IT 2014, where she was voted into fifth place.


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