Is the digital skills crisis hindering UK innovation?


Is the digital skills crisis hindering innovation in the UK?

Since the beginning of the digital revolution 30 years ago, digital technology continues to embed itself into our daily lives as it becomes increasingly valued across all industries. However as the sector continues to grow at extraordinary speed, can we keep up with our own demands for development?

There is no doubt that there is a skills crisis within the digital industry, and there are a number of reasons why the skills deficit exists.

One reason is purely down to the pace of change this industry experiences. As a relatively young industry, naturally it has taken some time for its influence to filter into the Government’s budget and therefore into education and the public sectors. Jobs that exist today such as UX/UI designer, information security architect and app developer, didn’t exist 10 years ago and therefore our reaction to educate and train people in these evolving technologies simply hasn’t been quick enough.

This is something which the Science and Technology Committee predicts as an ongoing issue. In a recent report published by the Committee, they suggest that the rise of emerging digital technologies such as the Internet of Things, Big Data and robotics, means that by the time they’re old enough to work, 65% of primary school children today will be working in roles that do not yet exist.

If this is true, the education we offer our children needs to be shaken up. The report also highlights numerous problems within the education system that are affecting the UK’s ability to establish a digital talent pipeline, including a lack of teachers who have the necessary skills in the computer science space, revealing only 35% of computer science teachers have a relevant qualification.

Unfortunately, the skills gap extends beyond education and into the workplace. We’ve witnessed first-hand the challenges employers face in sourcing candidates with the necessary digital skills. As the report finds, it is a wide scale problem: almost 50% of employers are experiencing a digital skills gap and in the technology space, an overwhelming majority of employers (93%) believe that the skills gap is affecting their commercial operations.

So, there is undeniably a skills crisis in the UK, but is it preventing the nation from being innovative?

Despite the skills crisis, there are still definite signs of digital innovation within the UK. One example is the significant investment being made within the NHS to improve the quality and efficiency of its IT systems. But investment and digital innovation isn’t only happening within large public sector organisations. Numerous SMEs across a range of sectors are also making the move, proving that innovation is possible in a skills-short market, if you have the desire and investment to support it.

With progress being made by such organisations, it is unquestionable that businesses could innovate further if they had access to skilled professionals. Thus, whilst the lack of skills doesn’t stop companies from being innovative, it certainly hinders our ability as a nation to lead change.

If the UK is to remain a leading force in the technology industry within Europe, more action must be taken to encourage young people to learn digital skills and give the existing workforce the training they need to enhance their digital ability for the future.

By James Smith, Managing Director, Technology, Networkers International