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We must ensure all workers have the digital skills they need to succeed

The pandemic provided a catalyst for a digital transformation across the workforce (Alamy)

4 min read

Our country faces a comprehensive digital skills challenge. From simple basic skills of being able to use devices and software, to the building of web infrastructure, coding, digital design and the reskilling of those trained for their industries but ready for careers in tech, digital skills are crucial to the success of our economy and to the government achieving its goals of levelling up our country.

The nature of the digital economy means that businesses can look further afield to advertise highly skilled job opportunities and consider a much wider pool of candidates, both geographically and skills-based, yet the United Kingdom is still lagging behind.

In the latest Digital Leadership Report from tech talent provider Nash Squared, 70 per cent of those surveyed believed that a digital skills shortage prevented them from keeping up with the pace of change, and this survey included the CEOs and CIOs of some of the biggest tech firms.

This is the highest level since the report started in 1998, forming a clear call for support, especially as 74 per cent say that government could do more to tackle this digital skills crisis.

The pandemic not only made clear the necessity for a digital revolution, it provided a catalyst for a digital transformation across the workforce. Digital technology is now a key part of working life in almost all sectors and so too are digital skills. However digital skills are not freely and equally available to all and the pandemic has also exposed a growing digital divide.

Across the country, many young people do not have the skills or equipment that they need to participate in the workforce. This does a disservice to these young people and contributes to a digital skills gap which limits the growth of the UK’s emerging tech sector. If we are to truly level up our nation and equip our young people with the skills needed to further their careers, support their communities and contribute back to our economy, policymakers ought to make digital skills their priority.

In my own constituency of Sunderland Central we feel this particularly keenly. Organisations such as Sunderland Software City are engaging, inspiring and upskilling young people and job seekers, doing their part to build that talent pipeline within the science, technology, engineering and maths sectors that we so desperately need in the North East, and their North East Digital Skills Audit 2022 outlined the specific challenges facing our region.

It’s now over to the government to ensure that digital skills are prioritised not marginalised.

We should be celebrating that half of tech companies surveyed in the last 12 months recruited graduates, as it shows there is an appetite in the region for digital skills. However it is only through further investment in digital skills training for all ages and experiences that emerging talent can be truly supported and of benefit to potential employers if we are to support this demand in our region.

This chimes with my own work as a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, where we continue to hold the government to account on its levelling up promises for a digital economy that serves the whole UK, not just the existing digital hubs.

Access to technology talent will be key to competitiveness, but it is clear that some firms are struggling to make a difference on the ground. Leading tech companies have said that government-led initiatives are slow and do not respond appropriately to the rapidly changing world of technology. This simply cannot continue if we are to address the digital skills crisis.

We cannot afford to delay any longer the investment that is needed in the tech skills pipeline, both for our economy and our young people. Reports like the Digital Leadership Report are vital to helping us understand the nature of the issues at stake. It’s now over to the government to ensure that digital skills are prioritised not marginalised.

Julie Elliott is Labour MP for Sunderland Central and chair of the Digital Skills APPG.

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