The digital skills of the UK are increasingly on the political agenda with a growing message being expressed that there is more that could be done to build the skills of the workforce to make the most of the economic opportunities of digital.
There is much to unpick in this agenda and what it means for education and training. Whether we should be trying to prepare young people for an uncertain future or concentrate on basic skills for the present, just how much existing jobs are likely to be automated and how we compete in an interconnected world are just a few of the issues behind the assumption that digital is the answer to the challenges we face.
However, there is a trend at the moment towards exploring these issues, with groups like ETAG (to which we have been contributing) being formed by ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Education and a newly formed House of Lords select committee on Digital Skills which myself and colleague Jessica Bland gave evidence to recently.
Before both of these came the UK Digital Skills Task Force. This group is led by Maggie Philbin who has been working on the development of such skills with young people as part of her ‘Teen Tech’ initiative. UKDST have spent seven months consulting with young people, teachers and employers across the country and recently published the ‘Beta’ version of their report ‘Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World’.
Below is a summary of some of the key recommendations, but the report has deliberately been released in ‘Beta’ to allow it to be shaped by feedback. If you have opinions or feedback please do head over to their site to read further.
Perception and Reality
There is a gap between the need for digital skills in young people and the workforce which is often not recognised. Government should work with regional groups, educational institutions and businesses to raise awareness of the opportunities for those with digital skills and encourage more young people to explore the career options they present. The lack of diversity in the technology industry is also addressed.
The Digital Challenge for Schools
Schools need time, support and increased funding to build capacity for the new Computing curriculum and the development of digital skills more widely. Universities and government should put measures in place to recruit and develop more specialist computing teachers.
The Tech Third Sector
Informal learning organisations should be encouraged to provide an experimental space for innovation in the development of digital skills. The wide array of such organisations and initiatives should be mapped and signposted online as opportunities to young people. Funding should be provided for these organisations to develop and scale and the potential to accredit informal learning should be explored.
Apprenticeships for a Digital Economy
Apprenticeships should be presented as an equal option to University study for many students. More businesses should be enabled to work with apprentices and all employers should make sure the digital skills of their apprentices are being developed.
Digital by Degree
Universities should put measures in place to diversify the backgrounds of those studying computer science and technical subjects. Undergraduates should have opportunities to develop digital skills alongside their courses in other disciplines. Universities should strengthen links with industry to ensure their provision is kept up to date.
Digital Skills for Life
There is a need to develop basic digital skills across the entire population and government should invest in making this happen. Businesses should work to develop the digital skills of their employees and government should review the provision of opportunities for lifelong learning in this area.
There are many competing areas that different stakeholders are trying to influence - from high level technical studies in Universities and work based apprenticeships in the technology industry, all the way to the basic digital skills of the wider population.
This report makes broad recommendations for work across the board to develop the skills of the UK from an economic perspective. We await a ministerial response to this report and its far reaching recommendations.