‘The UK is creating digital jobs faster than we can fill them’
Digital is redefining British business. We’re on an amazing trajectory, typified by unrivalled success stories and record growth in the tech sector. But there is a potential problem. The rapid progress of our digital industries could be prematurely stymied by a lack of tech skills within the British workforce. The plain fact is that the UK is creating digital jobs faster than we can fill them.
A recent study found that Britain will need 745,000 additional workers with digital skills to continue growing the economy over the next four years. Despite this clear and obvious need, the private sector is struggling to find coders, web developers, product managers and data scientists – the entrepreneurial thinkers who will be the engine of the UK’s economy.
The government’s recent introduction of computing into the primary school curriculum is an important reform. But it will not start producing digitally literate workers for a while.
Founders and CEOs who are hiring say that universities are still not teaching enough practical digital skills that are so important to today’s fast growing digital businesses. And the private sector-led initiatives providing courses in digital skills cannot produce the quantity of professionals we need.
The future of any nation is innovation and its ability to be constantly creative in the face of ever changing challenges, especially as technology becomes more transformative in its impact.
The challenge is to start creating employees and entrepreneurs suited to our growing digital economy. We need to move forward in three areas: 1) a can do culture, 2) aptitude for problem solving and 3) digital skills.
First, while Britain has a unique legacy of innovation, scientific discovery and creativity – UK inventions include the jet engine, the television, the bulb and the world wide web – we still need to foster an entrepreneurial culture to inspire the next generation of digital pioneers. Entrepreneurship as a career choice must be viewed with the same level of social standing as the medical and legal professions.
Those who create bold ideas but do not enter formal education or drop out from university to pursue them should not be stigmatised; on the contrary, their risk-taking mentality should be celebrated.
Entrepreneurialism is predicated on confidence and strength of character; they are integral ingredients for startups to succeed. We must create a culture that instills these values across society.
Second, we must recognise the kind of aptitude needed in the digital age; an aptitude for problem solving. The computing curriculum is vital to our future not just because it will create a generation fluent in coding, but because it will instil logic-driven and creative computational thinking in future digital business owners. No other country can claim such a forward-thinking educational reform and the early start will give our homegrown workers a unique edge.
Finally, we need to democratise access to all tech-related skills. The skills we need go beyond coding. Along with programmers, digital businesses need online marketing managers, product developers and user-experience experts, to name but a few areas. Initiatives such as Ed Vaizey’s Digital Catapults and Boris Johnson’s tech apprenticeships are encouraging a broader spectrum of digital skills and access. More needs to be done to generate the scale required to fuel the industry.
This is why at Tech City UK we are launching the Digital Business Academy next week. Created with the help of some of the best minds in the digital community, our online academy offers digital business skills to anyone for free. The courses feature some of Britain’s best universities and digital skills providers and will teach everything from product development to online marketing, data analysis and user experience.
This is the world’s first government-funded online learning platform to provide the required skills for people who wish to start, grow or join a digital business. Moocs such as this will be crucial in helping to create the quality and quantity of tech professionals Britain so urgently needs.
From my perspective, the Digital Business Academy also signals the next era of our digital evolution. It is a first step in the democratisation of digital education. Transforming the UK into a national network of digital excellence will not come about through coders and developers alone, but through a truly digitally skilled workforce.
By promoting access to the right training, we can capture the digital momentum and offer a workforce of disparate age, background and economic status a real chance of digital success. The time to build a skilled digital Britain is now.
Gerard Grech is the chief executive of Tech City UK. You can follow him on Twitter @gerardgrech