UK failing to address digital skills shortage, says Lords report

Digital Skills Committee calls for improvements to digital skills efforts and a single digital agenda under one cabinet minister

The UK is failing to address its digital skills shortage, according to a House of Lords Digital Skills Committee report.

Make or break: The UK's digital future suggests the next government urgently needs to resolve the skills gap, with the Digital Skills Committee estimating 35% of UK jobs will be at risk of being automated over the next 20 years.

For the UK to solve this issue and become a digital leader, the report recommends making digital literacy a core subject at school, alongside English and maths.

The report also suggests the internet should be considered an important utility accessible to all.

The Digital Skills Committee said there is a lack of co-ordination between the current digital activity of four government ministers, a taskforce, a committee and a unit, and has called for a single digital agenda under one cabinet minister.

The committee highlighted the need for more apprenticeships and a shift in the country’s attitude towards cyber security, ensuring the UK has enough people trained with the necessary skills.

Despite welcoming the new computing curriculum – which commenced in September 2014 – the committee raised concerns over who would teach it, as the report says teachers are not confident in delivering digital skills.

Digital Skills Committee chair Baroness Morgan said the report is a wake-up call to the next government following the general election in May 2015.

"Digital is everywhere, with digital skills now seen as vital life skills. It's obvious, however, that we’re not learning the right skills to meet our future needs," she said.

"The report makes it clear that our approach to educating people of all ages needs a radical re-think. From an early age we need to give digital literacy as much importance as numeracy and literacy.

"While we welcome the introduction of the computing curriculum, we are concerned about the ability of teachers to deliver it, with more than half of our IT teachers not having a post-A level qualification relevant to IT."

Morgan added that there is urgent need for industry input, so graduates are learning skills relevant to digital jobs.

Internet should be available to all

Calling for a culture shift in how the UK views the internet, the report suggests the internet should be defined as a utility and made available to all. The committee said it is unacceptable that some urban areas still have internet not-spots with no broadband infrastructure at all.

The report showed some six million citizens have never used the internet and highlighted that digital inclusion is potentially worth £63bn a year to UK gross domestic product.

Morgan said the report showed internet provision in the UK needs a boost as not-spots directly affect the UK's ability to compete.

"Also, in some parts of the UK, as many as 20% of the population have never used the internet. Only when the government treats the internet as a utility, as important and vital for people as water or electricity, will these issues be addressed," she said.

"Our overwhelming recommendation is that the incoming government creates a digital agenda, with the goal of securing the UK’s place as a leading digital economy within the next five years. 

"Digital skills can no longer be dealt with by individual departments – this must all join up. We urge the new government to create a cabinet minister post to steer this digital agenda through.”

According to Morgan, the future of the UK's economy, workforce and people is at a make-or-break point.

"We have a choice as a country about whether we seize this opportunity or whether we fall behind. This report declares that the UK must aim to be a global digital leader, and only clear leadership from the government will get us there," she said.

Digital tech vital to UK economy

TechUK deputy CEO Antony Walker said the report highlights the importance of digital tech to the UK economy, and picks up on several of the 24 recommendations set out in Securing our digital future: The TechUK manifesto for growth and jobs 2015-2020.

“The committee should be commended for setting out a strong and comprehensive set of recommendations for the next government. They are absolutely right that it is make or break time to secure the UK’s digital future,” he said.

“Leadership is vital and this report echoes TechUK’s call for a single, joined-up, digital strategy with a dedicated cabinet minister,” he said.

Walker added that TechUK believes the UK needs a smart immigration policy to “ensure that UK tech startups and scale-ups can access the global talent pool".

"We applaud the recommendation to reinstate the previous post-study work route, which TechUK believes is crucial for ensuring a strong talent pipeline," he said.

“TechUK believes that all political parties should study this report closely as they finalise their election manifestos.”

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