A taskforce including Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services is calling on the government to develop the education system to address the growing need for digital skills

Today, a new report from trade body TechUK, representing hundreds of UK and international tech businesses, has called on the government to tackle the growing digital skills shortage in the country. 
The Fast Forward for Digital Jobs report, which features tech giants like Microsoft and Google, argues that immediate action is required, with thousands of digital jobs remaining vacant due to a lack of skills. 
This is especially poignant when considered against the backdrop of the pandemic, which has not only cost many people their jobs, but has driven digitalisation far faster than the education system can react.
According to data from NESTA, the lack of digital skills is currently costing the UK economy around £2 billion every year and, if digital education is not improved, the situation could grow worse. By 2025, around three million new jobs will be created that will require digital skills.
“The pandemic is having a dramatic impact on people’s lives – with almost two-thirds of those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic under the age of 25, there is a real fear the generations to come will suffer the economic impacts. Employers in the technology sector have come together on the Fast Forward for Digital Jobs Taskforce to support next generation employment,” said Jacqueline de Rojas, President of TechUK.
“We know digital skills are a key part of living and working online but not everyone has access to the training which will equip them with employable digital skills. This report outlines new ways industry and government can collaborate to provide all people across the UK with the skills they need to prepare them for what comes next.”
In short, the coming years will not only require more support from the government in driving the development of digital skills, but also more flexibility and training from employers. 
The government has already gone some way towards improving its focus on digital education, with its ‘Skills for Jobs’ blueprint, published in January, focusing on tackling the skills shortage in over-16s. However, the TechUK report suggests that, while initiatives like these are a positive step, they may not go far enough.
The report notes seven key recommendations, aiming to support learners, support employers, and deliver change at scale. 
  1. Showcase the life changing opportunities of digital skills and jobs – highlighting the diversity and effectiveness of pathways and jobs available to all.  
  2. Champion bite-sized flexible learning as a flexible, affordable and effective route for learners to acquire productive digital skills that are valued by employers. 
  3. Help learners meet the cost of retraining – extend financial assistance similar to The Lifelong Loan Entitlement and Lifetime Skills Guarantee for a culture and system of lifelong learning.
  4. Help small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to invest in digital reskilling through a Digital Skills Tax Credit
  5. Enable more SMEs to benefit from the Apprenticeship Levy – including increasing the percentage of unspent funds from levy-payers that can be transferred to smaller companies. 
  6. Ensure education providers focus on job readiness – create partnerships between employers and educators to ensure programmes focus on the skill sets those employers need.   
  7.  Develop an online ‘Digital Skills Toolkit 2.0’ to help people navigate to digital skills and careers – Building on the success of the Skills Toolkit, an end-to-end ‘Digital Skills Toolkit 2.0’ would make digital opportunities and pathways more transparent and accessible to more people.  
Naturally, implementing these seven recommendations will require a lot of work and coordination from both the government and the private sector, but it should also remember that many resources already exist and are simply underutilised. As exemplified by the first recommendation above, the first step here is to raise awareness of the importance of digital skills, both to the public, as well as to employers and government bodies.
This report echoes concerns from a similar study conducted last month by FutureDotNow, which showed the UK had a ‘hidden middle’ of some 17 million people, who were not digitally excluded but lacked the digital skills to fully participate in the digital world. 
“There’s a significant part of our workforce without the essential digital skills required for the new global digital world we’re competing in,” explained Liz Williams, chief executive of FutureDotNow. “Great businesses are underpowered, like smartphones with a flat battery, because their workforces lack these essential digital skills.”
What does this digital skills shortage mean for the telecoms industry and what can we do about it? Find out from the experts at this year’s live Connected Britain 
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