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The digital skills gap costs the UK economy £63bn a year, according to a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, and MPs are calling on the government to take action.
The Digital skills crisis report said although the government has done well in putting in place “effective interventions” in the last parliament by introducing the computing curriculum in schools and encouraging take-up of digital apprenticeships, it needs to do more.
It added that the government needs to “offer genuine leadership and vision for the future of digital skills and our digital economy”.
“Digital skills are becoming increasingly essential for getting access to a range of products and services. However, there is a digital divide where up to 12.6 million of the adult UK population lack basic digital skills,” said the report.
“An estimated 5.8 million people have never used the internet at all. This digital skills gap is costing the UK economy an estimated £63bn year in lost additional GDP.”
Science and Technology Committee chair Nicola Blackwood said while the UK is a leader when it comes to technology, the government needs to take “concerted action to avoid falling behind”.
“The government deserves credit for action taken so far, but it needs to go much further and faster. We need action on visas, vocational training and putting digital skills at the heart of modern apprenticeships,” she said.
She also urged the government to publish its digital strategy “without delay”, and added that it “must deliver”.
Read more about the digital skills gap
- Martha Lane Fox says giving unemployed women digital skills and IT jobs could solve the skills gap.
- Education professionals say Ofsted should help them provide computing curriculum roadmaps rather than year-on-year assessments only.
- Government, education and the IT industry should collaborate on a local level to address the skills gap.
In March 2016, culture secretary and digital economy minister Ed Vaizey said the strategy was ready to be published, but the government has postponed its release of the strategy until after the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU).
The committee said in the report that they “cannot understand why the government has delayed for so long the publication of its digital strategy”.
“In the absence of further details, there is a doubt that it will give sufficient weight to the vital areas for change that we have highlighted in our inquiry,” the report said.
“By setting out a vision for the future, to be delivered by collaborative work between industry, educators and government, the strategy should be more than the ‘aspirational’ document that ministers propose – it should be a strategy that actually delivers.”
The report added that the strategy should commit the government “to annual dynamic mapping” of initiatives and public spending on digital skills.
“In its forthcoming digital strategy, the government needs to establish an effective pipeline of individuals with specialist skills in data science, coding and a broader scientific workforce that is equipped with a firm grounding in mathematics, data analysis and computing,” it said.
The report called for the digital strategy to include benchmarks and defined outcomes, goals for developing better basic digital skills, increasing the number of computer science students and digital apprenticeships and fostering digital champions.
More computer science teachers needed
The report set out a series of recommendations, including a review of the requirements for “shortage occupation” IT jobs under the Tier 2 visa, to make it easier for companies – particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – to recruit talent.
It also encouraged government to extend its “digital friends” initiatives across public sector, and emphasise the need for digital skills not just in in IT apprenticeships.
While the government already has targets in place for recruiting maths and physics teachers, the committee recommended a similar target is put in place for computer science teachers to “demonstrate a commitment to equip our future generation with the tools and resources to navigate the digital world, and provide a means of monitoring progress”.
It called on the government to “review the case for financial incentives” in recruiting computer science teachers.
“As an interim solution to recruitment shortfalls, the government should consider categorising computer science teachers as one of the ‘shortage occupations’, thereby making it easier for schools or local authorities to recruit from outside the EU,” the report said.