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UK digital economy needs 2.3 million digital workers by 2020

The UK will need the skills of 2.3 million digital workers by 2020 if it hopes to power the promised digital economy, according to research from O2

The UK will need 2.3 million workers with digital skills to reach its digital potential by 2020, according to research from O2.

The mobile operator predicted 766,000 digital jobs will be created over the next five years, with 47% of these in London or the south-east.

This has created concerns over the impact of the “Northern Powerhouse” technology growth initiatives, with only 8% of digital jobs predicted to surface in the north-west and east of England.

As a result, O2 has launched a Digital Communities pilot in St. Helens, in Merseyside, to encourage young people to pursue digital careers outside London.

“It’s promising to see so many jobs will be required to fulfil the UK’s digital potential. But we can’t get complacent – these figures highlight that the economy is nowhere near digital maturity and – worryingly – the opportunities that are being created, are predominantly in the south,” O2 business director, Ben Dowd, said.

“We’re committed to playing our part – which is why we’ve launched an ambitious partnership with St Helens Council to show other communities what’s possible when they put connectivity at their heart."

As part of the initiative, O2 will help local businesses to implement digital, will help people with digital skills in the area to join local companies who need talent, and will help St Helen’s Council to offer more digital services.

O2 hopes to create a “blueprint” to allow other areas in the country to showcase the benefits of connectivity, said Dowd, and will encourage other counties to do the same, so “the entire nation can feel the benefits of the UK’s growing digital economy”, through making the most of young digital talent.

The O2 pilot will involve “digital makeovers” for businesses, giving at least 10 firms free consultations on how to use technology for growth, a “digital skills exchange” – where local businesses will take on younger people with digital skills for work experience – and 60 O2-funded grants given away by the Chamber of Commerce to fund mentoring programmes for young digital entrepreneurs in the St Helen’s area.

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A community hackathon will take place to spark interest in digital for younger people and encourage them to create applications to solve real-world problems in the local area. An O2 digital hub will provide a number of digital services, such as careers clinics, social media surgeries and code clubs.

“Raising our digital profile will not only boost our commercial and employment prospects, but help to connect our communities and deal with issues like social isolation,” said St Helens Council leader Barrie Grunewald.

“This is a tremendously exciting project that will hopefully whet the appetite for greater involvement with technology among our young people, older people, businesses, agencies and other institutions.”

O2 conducted the research after previous predictions claimed 750,000 digital jobs would be created by 2017, a figure now on track for 1.1 million.

Many of these jobs are now being created in the north-west and east of England. A number of initiatives have been put in place to drive this growth, including a £11m government investment in technology incubators in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield; and Innovate Finance’s strategy to connect fintech hubs outside of the UK with London.

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The UK (and the US) need to get down to business and invest real money and effort to start training digital workers. Then put them to work. Neither country can afford to keep farming out those jobs in the endless search for ever-cheaper labor. 
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