The UK is facing a digital skills crisis. Whilst our economy and business landscape continues the rapid march to digitalisation, the education system is failing to keep up with the pace. The tech industry is being dealt a hammer blow by sluggish progress in the education system – it is estimated that the existing digital skills gap sees the UK lose out on £63bn in GDP every year.
While we have a long way to go, it is encouraging that so many people are now striving for change. In fact, England became the first country in the world to put coding on the education agenda as a requisite element of schooling in 2014.
It is too soon to measure the effects of this policy change, but what we do know is that the development of technology is moving so quickly that by the time young people leave education, even the specific coding and tech skills they are learning in these years might be redundant sooner than we think. For example, even graduates of computer science degrees are finding that many tech companies are already using updated languages and skills they have not learnt – meaning they still need that extra training.
With advancements in AI and machine learning, it is possible that 10 years from now, many roles that are involved in the creation of software are likely to be replaced or at least augmented by automated programmes which will do the job for us. They do already exist, though they are not as sophisticated yet as they will be.
It is therefore likely that the tech jobs of the future will involve a greater emphasis on data science, and AI and machine learning skills, which are already a growing area of study. It is crucial for schools and universities to stay on top of developments in the real world to ensure the next generation does not invest time in skills that won’t be needed anymore.
There is a fantastic opportunity to work as part of an ecosystem that is evolving rapidly, and to be at the forefront of an industrial revolution
It is mission critical that we get this right. As of February 2021, Tech Nation data showed that if growth in the sector continues at its current rate, the tech sector will have 100,000 job openings per month by the end of the second quarter of 2021.
In contrast, according to the ONS, unemployment for over 16s has already increased by 1.3% and this figure is expected to rise significantly when the furlough scheme is dialled back even further – there will undoubtedly be more job losses to come.
This huge disparity – between the number of job vacancies and those looking for secure, well-paid jobs – needs to be solved. We need to match up the skills and requirements in order to ensure that young people from all over the country have promising job prospects, and these fast growth sectors have the talent pipeline required to grow.
The tech industry is a feather in the cap of British business and productivity, and we cannot scupper our progress by falling short in our digital skills provision.
Technology is a great career choice for young people. There is a fantastic opportunity to work as part of an ecosystem that is evolving rapidly, and to be at the forefront of an industrial revolution. The salary benefits in tech are also well above average at over £53,000 per year as employers strive to attract young bright minds.
Ultimately, collaboration will be the key to absolving this catastrophic shortage of digital skills. There needs to be more partnership between schools, educators and the tech community over real-life applications of technology education. If we can provide young people with the advice and guidance they need for a future career in tech, then we can ensure this industry will continue to thrive with young talent at the helm of its growth.