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Why the UK risks making itself irrelevant in the 21st Century

ITProPortal spoke to Justin Lyon, CEO of Simudyne ahead of his upcoming talk at the NextGen 2014 conference. Justin spoke about why the UK risks making itself irrelevant in the Twenty-first Century if it doesn't get its digital skills priorities in order.

Increasingly we're seeing that every company needs digital skills not only to grow, but to prosper. The responsibility is clearly that of the government and the private sector together to foster those skills. The skills we learn as children are the ones we build on over time. Skills like science, engineering and so forth will set our kids in a good position as they go forward into the future.

There's a need to address a gap in perception between the need for digital skills and the reality of the growing importance of those skills. So going back about 50-60 years ago, there's a really interesting book called "The Two Cultures" by C.P. Snow, which describes how a split between the sciences and the humanities was hindering the progress of humanity. And clearly in the Twenty-first Century programming skills and digital skills are what's necessary for our children to succeed, but many people still believe a good knowledge of Latin and Shakespeare is the sole hallmark of a good education.

Today if you were at a party and admitted that you'd never read Hamlet or any of Shakespeare's plays, people might laugh at you. But ask anyone what the second law of thermodynamics is, and a lot of people wouldn't be able to answer you. But to someone with digital skills and an engineering education, that lack of knowledge is just as ridiculous. Now obviously the Liberal Arts are important, but the importance of digital skills simply isn't being understood by senior policy-makers.

That's clear when you look at the funding. For example, there's about £175 per school, that's roughly £3.5 million that the government has allocated for digital skills – and that's clearly not enough. When you compare that to Jersey, where they spend not £175 but over £15,000 for similar step changes in their skills, you can see that gap in perception.

The other thing is we need to connecting education and students with the businesses that are going to employ them. We could help with career guidance and work experience through internships and so on.

The third point is helping to work with businesses and professional bodies to extract form business and professional bodies to create a website that people can go to find out what does it take to embark on a digital career. If we don't follow these steps, we risk being rendered unnecessary in the Twenty-first Century.

We as a country want to be able to operate on a global stage, and we need to have the digital skills to develop software that becomes globally relevant.

Historically, if you look at some of the great British scientists, whether it's Tim Berners-Lee (whose work eventually led to the creation of the Inernet), or Dr. Kim Warren, who's been pioneering great science that brings together great engineering with strategic thinking, these are great scientists and engineers, and we need more of that. And that in turn will create tax revenues to fund important programmes.

Justin Lyon is CEO of Simudyne, and will be speaking at the NextGen 2014 conference in Derby on 12 November. To find out more, visit the NextGen 2014 website.