Transforming participation in Digital Skills programmes by involving MPs

Redeploying welfare funding to support 3 million new apprenticeships was one of David Cameron’s most highly publicized election pledges. We can expect to hear more in the budget this week. Meanwhile every survey of employers’ current and expected problems, for well over a decade, has flagged shortages of digital skills.

It is often said that “there is no shortage of digital skills (e.g. cyber, design, etc., pick your definition), only of employers who recruit trainees and retrain their existing staff“.

That is, however, not strictly true. 

There is also a shortage of employers willing and able to work with local schools and colleges to help educate and motivate the next generation (digital natives/millennials), re-motivate the “lost generation” (digital neets) and offer “back into employment opportunities” for the “other half” (including returners with family responsibilities). Every skill in short supply now has a digital component and employers want evolving mixes of skills that do not fit traditional qualifications.

Meeting the objectives set by the Prime Minister, let alone the evolving skills needs of industry, will not be easy but the glass is also half full. We need to publicise, build on and replicate success. Failure to do so risks iniativitis, fragmentation of effort and the replication of that which does not work.

One past success was “Make IT Happy“, the brainchild of Andrew Miller MP when, as  Chairman of PITCOM (subsequently transmogrified into PICTFOR) he secured agreement to use its reserves to underpin the launch of a series of competitions to improve links between MPs and the schools in their constituencies. A result was that e-Skills, now the Tech Partnership acquired 25 Parliamentary “Digital Skills Ambassadors”, willing to help support and publicise local schools activities.

The Digital Policy Alliance (which has an MoU with PICTFOR but is not bound by the rules of the All-Party groups) has organized an event on the afternoon of 9th July to help the Tech Partnership recruit new “Skills Ambassadors” to help publicise the full range of activities now available (or planned) to help their voters and their voters’ children and grandchildren to acquire the skills of the future and to help employers (large and small) create the jobs of future in their constituencies

The second objective is to identify those MPs who wish to help ensure that the promises of today are turned into action plans that will produce results by the time they stand for re-election in 2020. My own (third) objective is to encourage MPs to ask employers who complain about skills shortages, what they are doing to help. I would also like to see more MPs publicly praise those who are already helping – particularly those in their own constituencies.

The result should be a set of symbiotic relationships that make the target of 3 million additional apprenticeships by 2020 look not only achievable, but modest.  . 

The good news is that the time is finally ripe for breaking out of Groundhog Day. The bandwagon has started to roll.

Over 500 employers, large and small, are now supporting existing programmes via the new Tech Partnership (successor to e-Skills) and there is an impressive portfolio of new programmes for launch over the next few months and during the run-up to the party conferences in the Autumn.

In parallel, City and Guilds, the only globally recognised skills brand the UK still possesses, is looking at how to enable employers to embed digital into traditional skills, including to meet the skills needs of the City of London as the world’s main Fintech centre.
Across the UK a growing number of FE Colleges, individually or in bottom-up consortia are working together to re-create community skills hubs, supporting employers who are too small to organise in-house apprentice programmes . Click here for more detail, including links to case studies of success. .

We have a growing number of services to publicise apprenticeship opportunities and/or help employees find suitable (motivation as much as innate aptitude) recruits. Some are focused on organising events to promote what is happening regionally or nationally, such as Apprenticeships4England . Some are embedded in national careers advice services for young people unable or unwilling to incur student debt, such as notgoingtouni. Some are specific to digital, such as wearedotdotdot. Some are geographically specific, such as the Good Careers Guide “brokerage” pilot. Others are embedded in mainstream job search serves such as Total Jobs . We should also include programmes such as “Young Enterprise” and some of the more successful “welfare to work” contractors whose “graduates” are now recruiting apprentices of their own or helping others to do so in areas of extreme shortage, such as information security  

There is a wealth of relevant careers and learning material on-line and the regional “grids for learning” (linked nationally via JANET) could enable most schools and libraries to operate as on-line local skills, careers and learning hubs, networked to colleges, schools, universities and education and training providers around the world, not just in the UK.

Most of the main professional bodies and trade associations are looking to provide support for skills programmes and apprenticeships via their local branches and activists. Those serving the digital world range from the umbrella bodies like the British Computer Society to specialist international bodies like ISACA (which bridges the world of audit and information security and has a strong UK chapter).

On the 9th July the aim is to provide succinct introductions for MPs and their research assistants to what is already happening or planned at the national or international level and to the opportunities to support local action to help meet the needs of their voters (and their voters children and grandchildren) and get the jobs and skills the future to their co nstituencies.

We also aim to provide platforms for:

  • MPs to publicly support (quotes for press releases etc.) what is already happening or planned in their own constituencies and
  • Employers to state what they are doing with their local MPs.

Please  email me , copy to the DPA Office, if you would like to participate in the follow up.

[This blog will be updated at periodic intervals between now and the 9th July]