In the UK, a skills crisis threatens the country’s long term productivity, economic growth and employment prospects. To overcome this, urgent action is needed. But what does this action involve – and what steps do government and industry need to take?
In this guest blog Neil Lathwood, CTO at UKFast, one of the companies involved in the Fast Forward for Digital Jobs initiative and one of the UK’s largest tech employers, sets out to answer these questions.
The UK is in the midst of a digital skills crisis. The number of students taking IT subjects at GCSE has dropped 40% since 2015, and now 70% of young people expect employers to invest in their training by teaching them digital skills on the job.
But here’s the challenge: half of UK employers admit they aren’t in a position to provide training on the job. So, where are these skills going to come from? What’s causing the skills shortage in the UK, and how can the government and businesses work together to close it?
Yet, the demand for digital skills is growing fast. Everything from cloud computing to customer apps, remote working and emerging technologies will be in short supply. The more organisations rely on technology, the more tech experts are needed to help build, manage and support it.
Let’s take a closer look.
Digital skills in the UK: What the government can do
Right now, there are thousands of digital job vacancies in the market, with recent projections suggesting a further three million new digital skills jobs will be created by 2025. But people don’t have the skills to fill these vacancies, which means significant cooperation between industry and the government is needed to help resolve it.
As part of the Fast Forward for Digital Jobs initiative, UKFast, Google, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Salesforce, and other technology companies came together to provide concrete recommendations to the government for how to bridge the digital skills gaps. These five steps are some of the most important:
1. Train young people
Closing the skills gap requires a genuine long term commitment to upskill the next generation. For that reason, the government needs to take a digital first approach to young people’s education, ensuring the generation of the future have the skills needed to fill these jobs.
2. Advocate, educate and inform
Too many people leave school today thinking that a career in tech isn’t for them – particularly women. Young people need to come out of the education system with the skills needed to fill these jobs, but also with an understanding that a career in tech can be for them.
3. Offer more apprenticeships
In 2021, there were far too few ways to get into tech. The government needs to support and advocate apprenticeship schemes and further education, so that doing a computer science degree at university no longer has to be the only route into a tech career.
4. Meet learners where they are
Many potential tech workers are unable to dedicate themselves to a multi-year degree or qualification, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty to offer. The government should invest in bite-sized flexible learning schemes, with individual modules and short-term training sessions that fit around people’s lives.
5. Fund education for everywhere
For too many people, cost is a high barrier to effective education – particularly for those who have already left the education system. Whether it’s a 16-year old just getting started or a 56-year old looking to retrain, the government needs to remove this barrier and make it achievable and affordable for everyone in society to retrain – regardless of their age or economic background.
6. What industry can do
Government action is vital to closing the UK’s skills gap – but it’s not the whole story. In fact, there’s an important role for industry and businesses to play – particularly in the short term.
The gap in tech jobs available, versus those being filled, proves tech companies in the UK aren’t doing enough to help train and upskill the workforce. Too many businesses expect employees to join on day one with all the skills and knowledge they need pre-packaged. To overcome this hurdle, there are a few key things tech companies can and should be doing:
7. Advocate tech careers
The tech world has a perception problem – too many young people do not understand that there are lots of different STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) careers available to them. Tech companies should go into local schools, colleges and sixth forms to advocate tech careers so more people feel empowered to pursue them.
8. Offer apprenticeships
For too many people, doing a computer science degree at a top university is the only route into a career in tech – and that’s just not for everybody. It’s important to provide an alternative option, offering on the job training and apprenticeships that give people the skills and qualifications they need while they work and earn a salary.
9. Invest in career progression
Upskilling and retraining existing staff is also vital. Just because somebody is an account manager or sales assistant today, doesn’t mean they can’t be a software developer tomorrow. Investing in your existing workforce will pay off in dividends in the long term, helping you fill roles with skilled people you know and trust.
When it comes to solving the UK’s skills gap – a thorough culture change is needed, from both industry and government. That culture change needs to be started and directed by the government – but it’s important tech companies play their part too. It’s only together that we can start to make a genuine difference.
At UKFast, we’ve been doing our bit for several years by offering Level 3 and 4 apprenticeships to young people coming out of schools, colleges and sixth forms. As part of the UKFast Academy, we select and train the best people from the local area – and we’re now one of only two UK tech apprenticeship programmes to be rated outstanding by OFSTED. But crucially, we also retain and invest in our apprentices long after they have their certificates to make sure our company grows and develops alongside our fantastic team.
- Low-code, no-code: What is it? Could it be the answer to bridging the digital skills gap?
- The Software Institute launches to address the global digital skills gap
- FutureDotNow launches playbook in response to mounting digital skills gap in UK business
- Flexible resourcing looks to plug the IT skills gap
It’s schemes like this that will help close the UK skills gap in the future. I believe that as an industry and a country, we have the potential to close the skills gap and unlock the talent of the next generation. But to achieve that, we need to start working together, from today.