IT Sustainability Think Tank: Using digital skills to close the sustainability gap

There is mounting anecdotal evidence that enterprises are struggling to ensure their statements of intent on sustainability are matching their actions, so what steps can they take to bridge the gap?

Sustainability is now seen as a core pillar of any successful business. As it can encompass many different topics, it is important to ensure the definition of  sustainability includes carbon reduction and the net zero transition, circular economy goals, and the broader social value targets that are defined on a company-by-company basis.

As the meaning of sustainability gets broader, pursuing sustainability requires a surplus of skilled people who can deliver these initiatives - and yet these sustainability professionals are currently in short supply.

We know technology can be the solution to many challenges our planet is currently facing but the sector itself is also dealing with a digital skills gap. It is worth mentioning the tech sector has shown leadership in sustainability through its commitments to science-based targets (such as the RaceToZero campaign), its capacity for digital enablement, assisting sustainable transitions in other sectors, and its corporate outreach.

However, if we do not cultivate the green digital skills of the future now, the UK is setting itself up for a significant challenge in the future.

Take cloud services as an example. Performance and service uptime has always been a key pillar of any cloud platform. Historically, training programmes and professional progression pathways have valued and promoted individuals skilled at delivering on these metrics.

With cloud now widely adopted across a sustainability-minded economy, a new pressure becomes the energy efficiency and carbon-footprint of cloud services. This requires novel ways of thinking about cloud architecture, datacentre management and cloud software design, right down to the coding language.

Failures to adapt the student-professional pipeline to consider shifts in customer culture around sustainability will help to widen the existing and already challenging skills gap. This would intensify competition for skilled staff, driving up costs and reducing the competitiveness of companies without people who can design and operate environmentally sustainable cloud services.

This is just one example, and sustainability professionals can come in many different forms depending on the company that requires their expertise.

With laws and regulations on climate, circular economy and social value now an inevitability, the tech sector must take seriously the looming challenge of training the sustainability professionals of tomorrow.

Lessons can be learned from successful initiatives in other digital skills, such as the UTC Heathrow Digital Futures Programme, fostered by market leaders in colocation and cloud hosting, helping to train teenagers and young adults in highly valuable digital skills.

The ADA National College for Digital Skills also aims to close the gap between education and industry, partnering with blue chip companies to facilitate apprenticeships or placement opportunities for its students.

Finally, backed by the largest companies in the tech and business service sectors, techUK’s sister organisation  TechSkills partners with top universities to deliver job-ready digital professionals with its Tech Industry Gold accreditation, recognising high quality tech sector education and training.

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