Not only does the UK face a digital skills crisis, with almost 13m adults lacking basic digital skills, but the spectre of digital exclusion in social and economic affairs is becoming real, a House of Commons science and technology committee has warned.
A major report by the parliamentary committee has found that almost 6m adults in the UK have never used the internet.
While the UK leads Europe in terms of digital readiness, especially in terms of introducing coding into the school curriculum – something Ireland, for example, has failed to do so far – it shows countries are sleepwalking into a potential economic nightmare.
This digital skills gap is costing the UK economy an estimated £63bn a year in lost additional GDP, the committee warned.
‘Almost 90pc of new jobs require digital skills to some degree, with 72pc of employers stating that they are unwilling to interview candidates who do not have basic IT skills’
– COMMONS SCIENCE AND TECH COMMITTEE
“Digital exclusion has no place in 21st-century Britain. While the Government is to be commended for the actions taken so far to tackle aspects of the digital skills crisis, stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems with digital education and training need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the government’s forthcoming Digital Strategy,” the committee said.
The committee revealed that the skills gap presents itself at all stages in the education and training pipeline, from schools to the workplace.
An audit of IT equipment in schools found that 22pc of it is ineffective.
Only 35pc of ICT teachers hold a relevant qualification.
“The Government has been able to recruit only 70pc of the required number of computer science teachers into the profession.
“The UK will need 745,000 additional workers with digital skills to meet rising demand from employers between 2013 and 2017, and almost 90pc of new jobs require digital skills to some degree, with 72pc of employers stating that they are unwilling to interview candidates who do not have basic IT skills,” the committee warned.
Lack of awareness of digital skills and opportunities
Two-thirds of “datavore”, or data-led businesses, report that they have struggled to fill at least one vacancy when trying to recruit analysts over a 12-month period, and 93pc of tech companies find that the digital skills gap affects their commercial operations.
As a result of emerging technologies, there is also a growing demand for high-level digital skills in areas such as cybersecurity, cloud and mobile computing and data analytics. Despite the vacancies, however, some 13pc of computer science students are still unemployed six months after graduating.
‘There is a lack of awareness of career opportunities within the digital sector, sometimes reflecting skill and gender stereotypes around the types of roles that exist’
– COMMONS SCIENCE AND TECH COMMITTEE
“It is essential for the UK to have the IT professionals it needs to build a robust digital economy,” the committee said.
“The average advertised salary in digital roles is just under £50,000 – 36pc higher than the national average. The workforce, from highly-skilled scientists to workers in manufacturing, are affected by the rapid changes in the use of technology in the workplace.
“There is a lack of awareness of career opportunities within the digital sector, sometimes reflecting skill and gender stereotypes around the types of roles that exist.
“Many organisations are not maximising the potential of new digital technologies or utilising the skills and talents of their employees in the most productive way.
“Almost 50pc of employers have a digital skills gap, which includes specialist technical roles,” the committee warned.
It called on the UK government to produce a coherent Digital Strategy.
“We cannot understand why the Government has delayed for so long the publication of its Digital Strategy. In the absence of further details, there is a doubt that it will give sufficient weight to the vital areas for change that we have highlighted in our inquiry. The gap between the digital skills that children and young people take into their working lives and the missing skills actually needed for the digital economy demonstrate a long-running weakness in the UK’s approach to developing digital skills.
“Initiatives currently in train will help to fill that gap, but the forthcoming strategy should be more than just a catalogue of initiatives. It needs also to be more than just a programme of work for government departments. We need to change the UK’s cultural perception of digital technology.
“By setting out a vision for the future, to be delivered by collaborative work between industry, educators and government, the strategy should be more than the aspirational document that ministers propose—it should be a strategy that actually delivers.
“The Digital Strategy should be published without further delay,” the committee urged.
Westminster at night image via Shutterstock