Are we meeting the digital skills challenge?

Are we meeting the digital skills challenge?

GlobeEarlier this week, the House of Commons Science and Technology select committee published a report, ‘Digital Skills Crisis’.

In their report, they found that 12.6million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills, an astonishing 5.8million have never used the internet and that only 35% of computing teachers in schools have a relevant degree.

Perhaps more alarming, and certainly relevant to the work of the National Centre is that 13% of computer science graduates are still unemployed 6 months after graduation, and that this digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63bn a year in lost GDP.

The scale of the challenge is significant, and yet to date the approaches to fix it have largely been piecemeal. The National Centre’s analysis was cited in the select committee report, demonstrating the difference between unemployment of computer science graduates (13%) compared to the average for graduates as a whole (8%). Indeed computer science continues to have the highest level of graduate unemployment of any subject area.

The Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, Nicola Blackwood MP has been a powerful advocate for addressing this mis match. The findings of the committee are stark, and their report certainly does not shy away from depicting the scale of the challenge between the digital skills our economy requires, and the gap that exists at present.

We know that work experience and placements are an important means to support students and graduates into the world of work, and further analysis in this area published by the National Centre in January 2015 helped to shed light on the complex pattern of provision in this area, ‘Growing Experience: A Review of Undergraduate Placements in Computer Science.’

The government have committed to introducing a new National Institute for Coding and also a National College for Digital Skills, and the select committee calls for further action in order to help bridge the gap, notably that digital skills should be a component in all apprenticeships not just ‘digital apprenticeships’.

Universities clearly have a role to help support the challenge too, further work to extend the provision of work experience and placements, and also the provision of ‘code conversion courses’ to help graduates from non-computer science backgrounds enter the industry should they wish to.

There will be a debate as to whether the current approach to digital skills represents a ‘crisis’ or not. But there is little dispute that enough is being done. The government clearly have a role to play, particularly in setting a digital strategy, but universities and business continue to have a crucial role in delivery to meet this challenge.

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