Tech giants team up to boost digital skills

Google, Microsoft, BBC & YouTube star Fleur de Force join panel to warn of growing ‘desert of digital skills’ in the UK

The digital industry and Government are failing to inspire enough young people to consider a ‘digital industry’ career and if action is not taken immediately the UK economy will suffer, according to a panel of leading experts.

Digital sector industry body, BIMA, the British Interactive Media Association, called a summit of leading executives from tech giants Microsoft and Google to tackle the skills shortage that threatens the growth of UK digital economy as part of its Digital Day* initiative.

A study by O2 in 2013 estimated that the UK will need 750,000 more digitally-skilled workers in order to meet demand for growth in this sector.

Nishma Robb, Head of Commercial Marketing at Google joined Hugh Milward, Corporate Affairs Director at Microsoft UK, and YouTube vlogger Fleur De Force, along with Jessica Cecil, Controller of BBC Make It Digital and Clare Verga, Principal of City of London Academy, Islington.

The expert panel, chaired by BBC Broadcaster Kate Russell, drew up a list of key challenges including:

  • Lack of young ambassadors to go into schools to explain the breadth of digital career options to students.
  • The need to address curriculum design and how digital skills are taught in the classroom.
  • Ignorance among teaching staff of career opportunities available to students.
  • Too narrow a focus from the Government on coding as the only ‘digital career’ when a wide range of creative jobs exist.
  • Poor packaging and marketing of digital opportunities –a different approach and framing of the skills could attract more girls, especially.
  • The need for companies to build trust within schools and educational establishments so offers of support are not viewed with suspicion.

Natalie Gross, CEO of digital marketing and technology consultancy Amaze and BIMA Executive joined the panel in saying that “Government, schools, businesses, membership organisations and individuals all need to work together to demonstrate the breadth of opportunities for young people in digital.”

Nishma Robb agreed, and pointed out that careers guidance in schools is very poor, and has hardly changed for the past 10 years. What is needed is better education and understanding, for both teachers and students, combined with great role modelling from successful digital pioneers like Fleur De Force. 

YouTube vlogger Fleur De Force described the difficulty she has faced from teachers and parents who do not understand that what she does is a ‘proper job’. “People need to understand that digital is an open book, and it is involved in every single industry,” she said.

On the subject of support for women entering the industry, Hugh Milward said that if double the number of women were to enter the world of digital, it would be a good starting point. “The government needs to understand its powerful role, and must listen and learn how to unlock the willingness that there already is to make a difference and have an impact,” he said.

Clare Verga called on businesses to come into schools and demonstrate how powerful the digital industry is, and what the opportunities are for young people. 

Kate Russell summarised by highlighting the importance of a joined-up approach to solving the problem of the digital skills gap. She said: “We need to stop relying on business to fill in the gaps for Government and we need to start joining the dots of some of these organisations who are all working independently of each other to speak with one voice.”

*The panel spoke at a press launch event for BIMA Digital Day 2015, which was hosted by Microsoft at its London offices.

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