UK must nurture home grown talent

Britain faces a shortage of digital skills and must better harness home grown talent, a report of the UK Digital Skills Taskforce warns

Led by Maggie Philbin, former Tomorrow’s World presenter, technology broadcaster and Chief Executive of TeenTech, the Taskforce was commissioned by Ed Miliband to make a series of independent recommendations to inform political debate ahead of the general election.

The need for digital skills is only going to grow: the Science Council estimates that the ICT workforce alone will grow by 39% by 2030. A 2013 O2 report, The Future Digital Skills Needs of the UK Economy, estimated that 745,000 additional workers with digital skills will be needed to meet rising demand from employers between 2013 and 2017.

Yet as of March 2014 there were still 975,000 young people in the UK who were not in education, employment or training, despite Microsoft reporting that there were 100,000 unfilled vacancies in partner companies across the UK last year. 

The report – Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World – will be presented to the Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna MP, at a launch event at O2 ThinkBig’s Wayra Academy in London today.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • Government should invest at least an additional £20m by 2020 to help successfully embed the new computing curriculum in schools across England. Current funding levels of £3.5m equate to just £175 per school.
  • Digital skills are essential not just to the labour market, but to participation in everyday life. Government should invest to extend basic digital skills to all of the UK population by 2020, sharing the cost with businesses and the charitable sector.
  • Computing should become a fourth ‘core science’. There should be a digital component to education and training opportunities for young people up to the age of 19.
  • Radical simplification of the apprenticeship system to ensure that more digital businesses, especially SMEs, invest in apprentices. The process remains too opaque for businesses of all sizes.
  • A new ‘Digital Challenge for schools’, modelled on the successful London Challenge initiative, to foster partnerships between schools and businesses and raise standards of teaching, showcase career opportunities and inspire a new generation into technology
  • Sandwich years and industrial placements should be expanded for computer science students and university computer science departments should have active Industrial Advisory Boards to help keep them updated with industry developments.

Maggie Philbin, Chair of the UK Digital Skills Taskforce said: “Britain is in the midst of another industrial revolution and only by engendering the spirit that allowed us to thrive so well in the first will we succeed in the second. For this to happen we need our young people to see technology and related applied sciences as a future that they can help create. If you have the right skills, if you have the right network, if you have the right attitude, this is a time of opportunity. We have to make sure we equip everyone in the UK for the digital revolution. Not just a fortunate few.”

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