Skills is at the heart of the UK’s Digital Strategy, with an announcement of a new Digital Skills Partnership and commitment from industry on new digital training opportunities.
techUK welcomes the announcements, and the recognition that people are the beating heart of the UK’s tech success. The continued focus and commitment to growing the domestic digital skills pipeline is to be commended, along with the recognition that it is only through collaboration that the digital skills gap can be bridged. The Digital Strategy offers a “framework” for the future of UK tech. As such, techUK believes the following skills issues should form a focus for policymakers, in conjunction with the Industrial Strategy.
The accelerating pace of technological change makes meaning lifelong learning initiatives more important than ever. While the Digital Strategy highlights lifelong learning, the announcements made focus on basic digital skills, with an approach that will mirror the one taken for adult literacy and numeracy training. While this is incredibly important, lifelong learning will need to incorporate more advanced digital skills that will equip the future workforce with the skills needed for the future digital economy.
Flexibility in the Apprenticeship Levy
To adapt to a new culture of lifelong learning, techUK has advocated for the use of the apprenticeship levy in a more flexible manner. techUK has consistently stated that the Levy risks drawing industry funding away from initiatives that provide digital skills training – initiatives that were highlighted and celebrated in the Digital Strategy. To continue the great work the sector is doing, the design and delivery for the levy must work for and not against the needs of the most dynamic and innovative sectors for the UK economy. To do this, it is imperative that the apprenticeship programme helps both those entering into the workforce into the first time and for those who would like to re-skill into a new sector by becoming more flexible.
The Digital Strategy is right to focus on the importance of the computing curriculum introduced in 2014 to equip school children with the digital skills required for the future. However, the target for the number of postgraduates who choose to become computing teachers has not been reached. Only 68% of the Government’s target was met, meaning a number of computing roles were left unfilled. While the Government’s commitment to Computing at School Network of Teaching Excellence is welcome, more funding is vital to ensure that school children are continued to be equipped with the right skills, something that techUK has been advocating for.
Finally, the Digital Strategy sets out admirable training commitments in partnership with industry for the short to medium term. UK tech, however, remains highly dependent on international high-skilled workers in the immediate term. As techUK’s recent report, The UK Digital Sectors after Brexit, found 18% of tech talent is foreign born, and foreign born workers accounted for 45% of net employment growth in the sector between 2009 and 2015. As techUK Deputy CEO Antony Walker commented, tech faces a triple hit on digital skills: a digital skills gap, and tighter restrictions for skilled work from EU and non-EEA talent. The UK tech sector will suffer it does not have access to the best and brightest international talent in the immediate term. That’s why techUK has recommended that the Government should scrap plans to introduce the immigration skills charge and postpone planned increases to Tier 2 minimum salary thresholds until a new dynamic migration system that’s been developed that takes full account of the UK’s changing relationship with the EU.
We have come a long way on digital skills, and the recognition from Government on this important issue is appreciated. techUK looks forward to working with our members and partners to ensure that the UK tech sector is the best it can be with a robust, growing talent pipeline.