The UK risks being left behind if the government fails to take more action to address the digital skills crisis. The sobering claim comes from a report published by the Science and Technology Committee.
Some 12.6 million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills, with 5.8 million people having never used the internet, it found. Only 30% of the required number of computer science teachers have not been recruited. Overall, this digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63bn a year in lost GDP, it says.
The gap between digital skills possessed and digital skills needed demonstrates a long-running weakness in the UK’s approach to this crisis, the committee says. In the report the MPs question why the government has taken so long to produce the long-promised ‘Digital Strategy’ and call for it to be published without further delay. The committee also warns that the strategy needs to go further than merely listing cross-government digital activity, but present a vision for the future delivered by collaborative work from all involved—industry, educators and government.
In order to rectify the situation it’s calling for:
- Digital skills to be made one of the core components in all apprenticeships, not just ‘digital apprenticeships’.
- Industry led vocationally-focused digital careers advice in universities.
- Universities to provide ‘code conversion courses’ to help graduates from non-computer science backgrounds enter the tech sector.
- After introducing the much needed computer curriculum in schools, the Government to establish a forum for employers to feedback on the continuing development of the curriculum, and Ofsted to include it in its school inspections.
- A review of the qualifying requirements for ‘shortage occupation’ IT jobs under ‘Tier 2 visas’, to allow SMEs to get critical digital skills from abroad.
- Apprenticeship scheme processes to be simplified to allow SMEs to participate more easily.
Science and Technology Committee chair, Nicola Blackwood MP, said: “The UK leads Europe on tech, but we need to take concerted action to avoid falling behind. We need to make sure tomorrow’s workforce is leaving school or university with the digital skills that employers need. The Government deserves credit for action taken so far but it needs to go much further and faster. We need action on visas, vocational training and putting digital skills at the heart of modern apprenticeships.
“The government’s long-delayed Digital Strategy must now be published without delay, and it must deliver. The Government has introduce a range of measures to help, particularly by expanding the scale of the apprenticeship programme and introducing a new computer curriculum in schools, but it needs urgently to present a vision and coherent strategy that brings these together.”
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