The Digital Skills Gap Issue:
In recent years, there have been multiple reports that the region is suffering a skills shortage in the digital sector. Both Tech North and Manchester’s New Economy found that more than half of the digital businesses in the North have been forced to decline new business due to a lack of skilled resource.
The Digital Skills Audit revealed that 29% of companies in the digital sector had turned down work worth more than £50,000. This is a concerning statistic, and it begs the question why this is such an issue.
A Government report issued in June 2015 by MP’, stated that “urgent action is needed to deal with the UK’s digital skills crisis, or it risks damaging the country’s productivity and competitiveness.” This prophecy has now been fulfilled, with the challenges being faced currently in the digital sector nationwide.
The report went on to say that “Stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems with education and training need to be urgently addressed”. It was following this that the Government’s digital strategy was published as an attempt to tackle the issue.
Although this problem is of national magnitude, it is believed that the North of England is suffering the effects more than most.
Andy Lovatt from The White Room, believes the reason for this could be very practical, naming location and travelling distance as a potential contributor that has exacerbated the issue in Lancashire.
Ultimately the onus of the problem, is the current education system, not supporting the modern developments of the expanding digital sector. Andy believes the current education offering is a real issue, and even the newest developments in apprenticeship schemes are coming too late, and that secondary education is the area most in need of the change.
“The new standards being developed should help make apprenticeship training more relevant, however they don;t correct or rectify the failings of secondary education”.
There are schools that are adapting the new needs of the business world, however these tend to be public schools, such as Manchester Creative Studio. They are an employer led ‘studio school’. The institute provide young people aged 14-19 with the skills and knowledge they need for a career in the creative and digital industries.
With their course curriculum covering aspects such as; the creative process and proposal writing skills, through to file transfer options and API integration, the pupils graduating from this learning environment will be much more equipped for the modern workplace.
However schools such as these are rare, and have extremely limited places. The education sector as a whole needs to develop and adapt their offers, to meet the changing needs of the digital economy.
The Government have recognised this issue, and has put together a number of recommendations of how to rectify the issue. One of the major recommendations is for ‘Employers to take ownership of digital skills development.’
This can be done in a number of ways:
- Collaborate at a national level. Employers should collaborate, through networks and partnerships, to develop coherent national approaches to raising digital skills levels, bringing together digital leaders from all sectors. For example, industry should take a lead role in researching key productivity gaps with their relevant business/sector, so they can understand the advantages of upskilling and future proofing their workforce.
- Lead on setting standards. Employers should play a lead role in setting the minimum standards that individuals are expected to acquire through education and are expected to acquire through education and training, including the digital skills that are transferable across different roles, for example, cyber security, digital marketing etc.
- Build the skills of their own employees. Employers should ensure existing staff have the training to keep their digital skills updated, and develop active recruitment and development strategies to maximise the digital skills of their workforce.
- Foster lifelong learning. Employers should help embed a culture which recognises and builds on the latent talents of their employees, actively supporting their learning through a wide range of learning approaches, to prepare them for future roles in the UK workforce. This could involve a mixture of vocational on-the-job training and employer led short courses with academic accreditation.
It is in light of these recommendations that Digital Lancashire have partnered to create the Digital Advantage project.
Digital Advantage seeks to transform the lives and careers of all those who participate in it and to give the whole region a Digital Advantage. The project will bring together industry experts with colleges and sixth forms to deliver digital industry skills and experience into the classroom.
This groundbreaking initiative will see 16-18 year olds in the Lancashire region invaluable access to digital skills and career advice.