The pandemic has led to the increased use of digital skills in all areas of life and has thrown a spotlight on an ongoing problem - the skills gap. Speaking during the Bridging the Digital Skills Gap webinar, organised by BCS, the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister, Gillian Keegan said employers are at the heart of the government’s training reforms to skill up the workforce: ‘What we need is employer leadership to work with us so that we can deliver it.’
BCS held the webinar in the wake of government announcements aimed at revolutionising the provision of technical education and training for those aged 16 plus. The plans are contained within the white paper: Skills for Jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth.
A greater role for industry
Businesses will have a greater say in the development of skills locally, and there will be a flexible lifelong loan entitlement so people can build up learning over their lifetime, and free access to almost 400 Level 3 courses for those currently without an A Level or equivalent qualification.
The increased use and importance of the internet during the pandemic, along with the worldwide shortage of digital skills and Brexit, meant the timing was right for such reforms according to Gillian Keegan MP.
She added there was a list of key things that needed to be done: ‘The first is the culture shift, with employers and the government working very closely to deliver this organic, dynamic, skills-based education system.’
This would benefit everyone by giving them access to technical skills - from school children, through to apprentices, to people attending digital skills boot camps and for those going back to college via the lifetime skills guarantee programme. 'Whatever it is you're doing,' the minister said, 'you're going to be getting the skills that will immediately enable you to become valuable in the workplace.'
It was also down to individuals to grab the opportunities, she said: ‘It's the culture of change in terms of the individual change, this lifetime of learning and this ability to continue to go back to education. A lot of that is confidence as well, making it bite-sized, making it flexible, making it easy, making it inclusive. So that's the other big culture shift.’
The provision of technical training was an essential part of the economic recovery the minister said: ‘Building back better, building back greener and the fact we're doing that in a digital world that's been transformed to some degree, means that there's going to be a global skills shortage. So that's the challenge in a nutshell as we see it from a government perspective.’
Solving the Digital Skills shortage
Fellow panellist Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann, OBE, CEO of WorldSkills UK agreed that getting training and inward investment in digital skills right was ‘crucial for the economy and the future of the next generation.’
WorldSkills UK recently released a report - Disconnected, Exploring the Digital Skills Gap - that said less than half of UK employers (48%) believed that young people were leaving full-time education with sufficient advanced digital skills.
The majority (76%) of businesses felt a lack of digital skills would hit their profitability.
Dr Bentley-Gockmann said that encouraging diversity was an important way to increase the number of young people in tech: ‘There's a huge amount of work employers can do in being explicit that they want to be an inclusive employer. Lots of big, small and medium-sized employers are doing a lot of good work on being gender, race and LGBT inclusive.’
Good careers advice and role models for all
Having good role models for young people amongst their peers to talk about careers in tech was vital he said: ‘Young people listen to other young people and respond well because they're just talking to somebody who's in their age range who talks and looks like they do.’
Good teaching and career advice were the cornerstones to such change he added: ‘We must also look at international-benchmarking to ensure we're developing not just the skill supply, but the quality of the skills that inward investors need.
‘That is part of the government's agenda and in particular, the Skills for Jobs white paper which looks at the quality of teaching and training, by making sure we're giving these young people the best start in their career. But crucially, [also] delivering to employers in the economy the quality and quantity of skills that are needed.’
Annette Allmark, Head of Apprenticeships at BCS welcomed the government’s focus on local initiatives. She said: ‘There are so many very good groups and local skills boards and the Institutes of Technology. It's about how we work together to say - right what's there already? What can we build upon and get some action to address the challenges - be it on a local level or a national level?’
The webinar was hosted by John Higgins, President of BCS and was well attended. Questions from the audience included asking about retraining for older people. The minister said the lifetime skills guarantee was a game-changer, as were the intensive 12-16 weeks digital boot camps that could provide a grounding in digital marketing, cybersecurity and data analytics.
Next steps - get involved
BCS is setting up a Digital Skills Network to bring together people, organisations, and existing groups to collaborate around the future of digital skills and training.
Register your interest in the Digital Skills Network
BCS has also recently set up an IT careers advice website, aimed at showing the range of skills and jobs available for everyone to thrive in a career in the digital world.
Find out more about digital skills for careers
Photo credit: ©This is Engineering, University of Southampton. Computer Science.