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Digital Skills Blog

The digital skills crisis

17th June 2016

“When Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented his distributed ‘information management system’ at CERN in 1989, no one anticipated the transformative impact of the digital revolution. In almost every aspect of our lives, we use digital products and services— in finance, health, education and entertainment. These products and services enrich our lives, opening up countless new opportunities: life-saving research innovations, access to knowledge and all sorts of ventures from grassroots campaigns to tech start-ups that begin in spare rooms only to emerge as ‘unicorn’ businesses.”

The introduction to the report published 13th June 2016 by the House of Common’s Select Committee on Science and Technology, ‘Digital Skills Crisis’ calls for substantial and urgent action to deliver better digital skills into the workforce and in society in order to realise the massive benefits, including major financial savings. And much of this improvement needs to take place in our schools and colleges in order to ensure that the next generation entering the workforce come with the necessary learning and mindsets that business of the future will demand – “These skills are no longer sector specific. The rise of the Internet of Things, Big Data and robotics means that 65% of children entering primary school today will be working in roles that do not yet exist.

E-commerce in the UKThe UK is already a world leader in e-commerce: the online retail market accounted for 8.3% of GDP in 2010. But, if we want to secure our position as a digital world leader, we need to ensure that investment in infrastructure, skills and cyber-security keeps up not only with the ever-increasing growth of the sector, but also with its restless innovation and creativity. Digital skills have no single definition, but have been described to include a general ability to use existing computers and digital devices to access digital services, “digital authoring skills” such as coding and software engineering, and the ability to critically evaluate data and media and to make informed choices about content and information. A growing number of career opportunities in data science is becoming evident this year in particular as businesses begin to understand how much data will underpin planning, delivery and development in future years.

“However, there is a digital divide where up to 12.6 million of the adult UK population lack basic digital skills. An estimated 5.8 million people have never used the internet at all. This digital skills gap is costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion a year in lost additional GDP.”

All of which means that our education and training system will need to improve and adjust to suit these needs and demands from employers and future employees alike. Whether that’s teaching the next generation and our future workforce, or continuously upskilling the existing workforce we will all need to adopt digital learning as a core part of life-long learning.

“The UK will need 745,000 additional workers with digital skills to meet rising demand from employers between 2013 and 2017, and almost 90% of new jobs require digital skills to some degree. Some 72% of employers state that they are unwilling to interview candidates who do not have basic IT skills.5 As a result of emerging technologies, there is also a growing demand for high level digital skills in areas such as cyber-security, cloud and mobile computing and data analytics.”

And beyond the workplace there are clear and substantial benefits to the development of digital skills. The Tinder Foundation have outlined six main benefits of widespread digital skills— earnings potential, employment, communications, transaction, time-saving and NHS cost savings.

They calculate that over the next 10 years, an investment of £1.65 billion in skills and devices would reap benefits to both individuals and the Government of up to £14 billion. The Centre for Economic and Business Research estimate that providing basic digital skills for 790,000 people over the next year would realise £12 million a year in NHS cost savings and a further £31 million from fewer job-seeker benefit payments and higher income tax and NI receipts. For the individuals concerned, the benefits would amount to £314 million in terms of earnings, employment, transaction, communication and time saving gains.”

The report contains a good review of the issues facing our schools in their approach to digital learning and technologies too.

“An audit of IT equipment in schools found that 22% of it is ineffective. Only 35% of ICT teachers hold a relevant qualification. The Government has been able to recruit only 70% of the required number of computer science teachers into the profession.”

Cosmic trainingCosmic has been working on digital inclusion projects for 20 years now, and much of that time has also been spent helping businesses develop and implement digital training programmes for existing staff. We’ve spent time working alongside schools to encourage and help with their digital challenges too, but we are now ready to make schools a central part of our strategy for the coming years and look forward to being able to help with their improvement and success. We will soon be publishing our White Paper looking at the issues as they face many of our schools, and ways in which we think a collaborative approach and new thinking can assist in their success. We all can now clearly recognise the value of digital skills, and how vital they will be in the future, and therefore we can no longer ignore it as a major enabler for our children and their future prosperity and careers.

For a full copy of the report – you can find it here.

You can also take a look at our schools service and the work we are doing to help schools tackle these issues here.