Young people must help bridge the digital skills gap

More than four fifths of employers say they believe that IT skills are more important to their business today than they were two years ago but unless young people can offer the digital skills needed to keep pace, the shortfall will only increase.

The growing digital skills crisis in the UK is getting the recognition which will hopefully see education and business join together and address a mismatch which has been allowed to grow too wide. With a government-commissioned surveypredicting that almost 90% of new jobs require digital skills to some degree – and cyber security top of the list – any intervention to encourage more people to learn the right skills can’t come soon enough.

This may seem surprising when so many of us witness the ease with which today’s Generation Z – often referred to as digital natives – find their way around digital technology. But while digital interfaces merely require their intuition, the tech skills required by businesses have not grown with them.

It needs to start with schools
“Addressing the digital skills crisis starts with our education system,” states the  science and technology committee in its recent Digital Skills Crisis report which found that only 35% of computer teachers in schools have a relevant degree and 30% of the required number of computer science teachers haven’t been recruited.

The demands for skills such as coding, information communication technologies and managing digital information are now starting to be addressed through campaigns and collaborations between education and business by organisations such as The Tech Partnership. Cue a suite of new apprenticeships and ambassador networks.

Informal learning could spark an interest
And although the new computing curriculum, launched in 2014 and aimed at addressing the shortfall, is yet to create a real impact, if you work with young people you’ll be well aware of the benefits to them of investing some extra-curricular time taking part in one of the many opportunities available to develop their digital skills. Coding clubs offering fun and free practical activities such as Code Club for 9-11 year olds are dotted around the country, often taking place in local libraries, and there are events taking place in lots of locations where young people can dip into ‘have a go’ hands-on sessions. In fact sparking a young person’s interest for any STEM-related subject could create a new passion potentially leading to a future career.

Shortage occupations
Employers are expected to need up to 745,000 additional employees with digital skills next year which could mean we see a review of the qualifying requirements for ‘shortage occupation’ IT jobs allowing businesses to get critical digital skills from abroad. This seems perplexing when you learn that 13% of computer graduates are still unemployed six months after leaving university but the devil really is in the detail.

Of course the digital revolution isn’t over yet… Driverless technologies, robotic engineering, big data, the Internet of Things, 5G and other wireless technologies not to mention AI (artificial intelligence) will only see the challenges increase. And the demand for skills doesn’t only affect businesses in a few sectors – every sector needs digital skills to help drive productivity, and young people will be the key to bridging this skills gap.

1 Science and Technology Committee Digital Skills Crisis report

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