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Education, industry and government mismatch main barrier to digital skills

Government, education and the IT industry should collaborate on a local level to address the skills gap

Initiatives put in place by the government and IT industry may end up operating in silos and becoming overlooked, according to research.

A report by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) found that one of the main barriers to improving digital skills proliferation in the UK is a lack of collaboration between bodies such as councils, schools and employers, meaning local output does not match local skills demand.

“Local partnerships and networks – local enterprise partnerships, councils, further education colleges, universities and employers – should work together to determine the skill needs for their local area, so education and training provision is better matched to local demand,” the report said.

“Government must encourage these partnerships to share best practice and knowledge of successful programmes and training schemes.”

According to the report, 20% adults do not have basic digital skills and 73% of those without digital skills do not have access to the internet, with these figures largely staying the same over the past two years.

The government has attempted to bridge the skills gap through several means, including introducing computer science as a mandatory subject in schools, and wider access to broadband through the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) initiative.

But the skills shortage needs attention across the entire pipeline, and the report claimed the current educational systems are causing a bottleneck.

“By not effectively linking supply of digital skills to immediate, medium and long-term demand, the relative ranking of the UK – in terms of investment in IT and utilisation compared with other major countries – is slipping,” the report stated.

“This may make the UK a less attractive investment location and place to do business.”

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The report stated that 40% of recruiters found the over-50s lacked technology, computing and digital skills, indicating that the older generation and some of the current available workforce is most likely to be left behind in the digital shift.

“There is a need for action to be taken to re-skill the workforce continuously to ensure new market segments that require digital skills can be exploited,” the report said.

But there is a potential danger of assuming the younger generation will automatically know what to do, with recruiters claiming around 10% of under 24-year-olds lack technology, computing and digital skills.

“However, it is important not to assume that young people who are from a digitally enriched generation – the ‘digital natives’ – by definition have the skills to use digital technologies effectively,” the report said.

The report said that often, where young people are learning digital skills, they are then not moving into careers because they are not aware of what is available.

Keeping girls in digital education

The IT industry believes a lack of female role models in attainable positions is one of the reasons many girls decide not to pursue a career involving technology.

“More young people, particularly girls, must be attracted to continue digital education and pursue careers. Schools should be better equipped to inform young people about the advantages of a career in digital, making it an attractive proposition compared with traditional vocations,” the report advised.

“They should also better promote the advantages of vocational routes such as degree apprenticeships in addition to traditional higher education routes.”

To address some of these issues, the DCMS suggested a focus on governmental policies to ensure people of all levels are learning the skills.

This should be followed by employers working alongside schools and networks to ensure existing careers are promoted to younger people to encourage them to fill the 756,000 IT jobs which will be available across Europe by 2020.

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