Society is undergoing a huge digital transformation, with change and innovation happening across all industries. To keep the UK at the forefront of this we must all do more to equip young people with the digital skills needed to meet the expanding gap in supply. With that in mind, the announcement on T-Levels made in the Spring Budget could be the solution the UK is looking for when it comes to developing more technical skills – but to be successful it must be supported by the business community.
Digital skills in the UK
The current skills shortage in Britain is at critical levels. Research last year from Capgemini found that 47% of senior decision makers think that while young people in the UK are digitally savvy, they don’t know how to use their digital skills for work purposes. However, in an increasingly digitised society a digitally-skilled workforce is vital for success in all industries.
This need is particularly prevalent in the technology sector. With a rate of transformation that shows no sign of letting up, we are reliant on this success for the future of the UK’s digital economy.
Taking technical education seriously
While this lack of digital skills is a cause for concern, it is promising to see that the Government is taking action now which will see benefits reaped for decades to come. Government initiatives will give young people the option to build their digital skills by taking full advantage of the new T-Levels being introduced.
T-Levels will replace the many technical courses currently on offer, with the aim of developing the skills teenagers need to enter the workforce – directly addressing the issue of young people not being able to apply their digital skills at work. On offer will be courses in subjects such as IT support and services, software design and development, and data and digital business services. We will start to see T-Levels being phased in from 2018, with teenagers between 16-19 years-old expected to undertake their studies at colleges around the country.
The government is yet to release exact plans on what the newly introduced T-Levels will involve. But what we do know is that this initiative is a clear statement of intent to place technical education in the same esteem as traditional academic education. In his recent Budget, Philip Hammond explained that part of the problem with the widening skills gap is that vocational qualifications, of which many are technical, are often seen as an easy option, a soft subject apart from the academic subjects. T-Levels will look to tackle this head on, with funding being ramped up in an attempt to “establish parity of esteem between academic and technical education” as The Chancellor says.
UK plc playing its part
But the T-Levels announcement showed off much more than the government’s commitment to just taking technical education seriously.
T-Levels also reinforce its commitment to the importance of a balance between technical training and on-the-job experience. Offering courses across 15 key sectors, the T-Levels will offer student more than just an academic qualification. As new qualifications are developed, employer-led panels are expected to develop new standards that will form the basis of each course and underpin the continued training of students through apprenticeships.
And this is where private businesses must play their part. Apprenticeship schemes are a great way of attracting top talent to a business, catering for people from all backgrounds, with different learning styles and skill sets. With the introduction of the new T-Levels, there is an increasingly attractive proposition for organisations looking to attract those with a technical skill set. While the cost of logistically implementing an apprenticeship offering - and all that comes with it such as mentoring programmes and training schemes - is a daunting one for many organisations, the long-term gains certainly outweigh the cost, helping to broaden and re-shape the skill-set in a workforce. At Capgemini, our commitment to the apprenticeship schemes we offer has enabled us to grow the technical skills that we need to continually innovate as a company.
Although the introduction of T-Levels is a huge step forward both for education and for industry, the changes cannot start and finish with government plans. If the UK is to truly combat the growing skills gap we are facing, organisations must take responsibility and commit to the provision of training and apprenticeships for those beyond just the 16-19 bracket that has access to T-Levels.
Again, apprenticeships, whether they’re supported with a technical education or not, are a great way of achieving this. More people are seeing them as a viable career choice and an opportunity for those at any stage of their career to unlock their true strengths and re-purpose their skills set. This includes those within an organisation looking to change role, those moving jobs and those re-entering the workforce, all of which widen the talent pools available to businesses.
A collaborative solution
Ultimately, the digital skills shortage we face in the UK does not have a simple solution, and while there is a genuine risk that the shortage of digital skills will pull British businesses behind their international counterparts, it can also be seen as an opportunity for all.
Creating a digitally ready workforce must start with the digitisation of the education sector. It has, for some years, felt as though education was rapidly falling behind, failing to meet the needs of a world increasingly reliant on technology. While the repercussions of this would be hefty, the changes we are starting to see show huge promise for the future of the digital workplace.
But it doesn’t just fall on the education system. The business community needs to play its part too, supporting the education system and organisations in the local community by sharing their expertise and skills with them. Doing so will build young people’s employability skills and digital literacy, both of which are becoming essential for their future careers.
To do this, it’s often just a case of businesses going into their local communities and looking for organisations, schools, or charities that need their help. At Capgemini we support projects such as Apps for Good and MyKindaFuture, working with these organisations to improve young people’s employability skills. Apps for Good is doing this through teaching 10-18 year olds digital skills such as programming, and inviting them to propose ideas for new apps to a panel of experts. Employees at Capgemini can become an ‘Expert’ with the project, offering their time to host sessions with school groups. Partnerships such as this are allowing organisations to contribute to the local community, and help with reducing the digital skills gap.
Together, we can ensure that young people are supported and inspired to recognise and realise their strengths. Doing so will equip them with the best tools and skills possible to develop bright careers, thus ensuring that the digital skills gap is tackled in a sustainable way that secures the future of society and UK economy.
Adele Every, Public Sector Innovation Champion, Capgemini UK
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