The myriad of job opportunities in the tech sector means that there is something for everyone but we have a chronic skills shortage that is only set to continue as the Fourth Industrial Revolution gathers pace. This is not good for the sector whose growth is stifled and is not good for people who should be the biggest beneficiaries of the technological revolution as workers as well as citizens and consumers. techUK is committed to changing that.
There is no silver bullet to solve the problem nor is there just one area we need to be focusing on. If we want to create the high-skilled, high-wage economy that Boris Johnson spoke about in his first speech as Prime Minister we need to redouble our efforts and not shy away from big and bold ideas. Luckily techUK have a few.
Focus on lifelong learning
For too long adult education has been neglected. Lip service has been paid to lifelong learning, but we have not found the mechanisms by which to make it a feasible reality for all. For most people learning stops once they’re through the school gates. This cannot continue. The pace and extent of change that is expected across the labour market in the years ahead is unprecedented. As new jobs emerge and old jobs become obsolete we need a revolution in the provision of lifelong learning. And a concerted effort at a national level to change the culture around learning.
The Augar review made some valuable recommendations on further education for example, not least full funding, at all ages, for both levels 2 and 3; however whilst place-based learning will always be a crucial part in the mix we must use tech to turbocharge the availability of learning. There is an enormous amount of provision out there, but it is often small-scale, hard to find and difficult to navigate. techUK believes that Government should co-ordinate these actions and make it easier for individuals to skill up.
The future will require a constant reskilling and upskilling with the workforce becoming ever more agile, to meet that challenge at scale, tech will be crucial.
Empowering local networks
The picture we painted with regards to online learning being hard to find and navigate also exist on the ground. Local networks will play an important role in joining up skilling efforts and ensuring people are signposted in the direction right for them.
Added to this is the fact that every region is different and regional skills gaps vary across the UK. More should be done to empower local communities to engage with industry and academics to meet the skills needs of their region. techUK is proud to sit on the Digital Skills Partnership board, which aims to improve all digital skills for everyone across England and Wales and we see local Digital Skills Partnerships as key players going forward.
Whilst those working today will need retraining and upskilling, 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will go on to do jobs that don’t exist yet. The big question then is how we can possibly prepare them for a future that remains shrouded in mystery? techUK firmly believes that human skills such as empathy, leadership, critical thinking and teamwork will never go out of fashion.
To test this theory we surveyed parents working in the tech sector to find out what they thought needed to be done. The findings were clear: better careers advice, a rebalancing of the curriculum to look at soft skills and an expectation that regardless of what you learn in school, you will need to retrain. We need to teach young people to love learning and focus on learning to learn.
Clearer pathways to careers
We also need to inspire and support people into digital roles. The UK’s tech sector is growing at 2.6 times the rate of the rest of the economy creating exciting jobs that require a range of skills and talent.
The pathway into a tech career is different for everyone. Yet the belief that a degree – in computer science or similar, is necessary has still persisted. By launching our online pathways guide highlighting the variety of routes into a tech career, techUK wants to promote tech careers and make the case for an inclusive and open sector, regardless of age, background or education. The website also looks to myth-bust some of the damaging stereotypes that still exist about the sector. These mainstream misconceptions are barriers to entry for and need to be addressed head on.
By empowering people with the right skills, both Government and industry can work side-by-side to highlight the need for digital skills and the clear career pathways that are transparent, understandable and attractive to young people. There has never been a better time to get involved as the sector continues to transform, but we must increase our efforts to signpost the vast amounts of information that there is out there.
Diversity from the start
Finally, in all of this diversity is crucial. If we don’t have diverse teams creating and building new tech solutions inevitably, we will find ourselves excluding people. The digital divide already is too deep so we must build with diversity not just in mind but around the decision-making table. At techUK we are proud to support a number of initiatives that promote diversity in tech whether that is doing outreach work into schools to ensure that young girls and boys regardless of their background are inspired into tech and can see role models that look like them, or initiatives that help build more inclusive workplaces for those with neuro-diverse backgrounds or different accessibility needs.
Tech is powerful and with AI, big data, robotics, IoT and all manner of other tech intersecting, it is now becoming increasingly sophisticated. This creates enormous opportunities and widens possibilities but we must ensure we design and innovate for all and that means providing the opportunity and motivation for everyone to play their part in the tech revolution.