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Tackling the Digital Skills Gap Requires Industry Support

Remaining competitive today is down to the strength of digital skills on offer, otherwise a business could go bust from lack of basic knowledge.

By April Slattery

Technology has become vital to our daily lives. Between 2011 and 2015 the technology sector grew 50 per cent faster than the wider UK economy according to TechCity, while eMarketer research reports that at home Brits spend an average of 4 hours 37 minutes per day using digital media. Despite technology’s increasing use in our personal and work lives, the supply of highly-skilled tech workers has not kept pace with the industry’s growth.

An obvious assumption would be that students and young adults today, reliant on their mobile devices and constantly up-to-date with latest advancements, would be keen to study the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects that lead to often lucrative careers in tech, but this is not the case. According to research from the UK Government, 12.6 million people in the UK are lacking basic digital skills, likely resulting in thousands of unfilled jobs.

A career in technology is largely viewed as technical, inaccessible and unappealing: this is a problem we at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), an IT services, consulting and business solutions provider, can and should help solve. All too often students find they’re ill-equipped to enter the workplace following education and unable to apply for certain jobs. There is an increasing need for digital know-how from job applicants, with 90 per cent of new jobs requiring digital skills to some degree and around 72 per cent of employers unwilling to interview candidates who do not have basic IT skills.

This is a serious problem and to fight the digital skills gap, a more integrated approach is needed, taking advantage of what the private industry has to offer. The cost of the digital skills shortage to the UK economy is an estimated £63 billion a year in lost additional GDP. The UK government recognises this and is working to counteract it, with investment in training additional computer science teachers in the 2017 budget, and recently launching the Digital Skills Partnership to highlight training opportunities from the public, private and charity sectors.

Top Skills Means Top Success

Companies need to hire candidates with strong digital skills to remain competitive. As a result, the private sector has boosted investment in its own digital skills training initiatives. For example at TCS, we have recently partnered with Oxford University to host the online Oxford Computing Challenge.

More than 5,000 students from across the UK took part in the challenge, all top achievers from Bebras, a leading international initiative aiming to promote Computing Science and Computational Thinking among school students. We set students tasks designed to use their current knowledge of STEM topics, logical thinking and general understanding of the world of computing to find solutions to solve complex challenges.

By showing students the link between the technology they use every day, their existing skill set and the technology industry, we were able to change their perceptions of a career in STEM to a more positive and appealing view. Feedback from the challenge was extremely positive and it clearly made a lasting impression on those taking part.

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“It was hard but was a great challenge,” was the opinion from one student, while another said, “I found these tasks a great challenge, pushing me to my limits….by the end of this I was able to calculate formulas, geometry, mazes and patterns. I’ve had support from ICT clubs and members of my family. This was truly the greatest challenge of my life.”

This event makes up just one part of our wider IT Futures programme. An initiative aimed at introducing students to the technology industry, through a combination of online challenges, work experience events, coding competitions and classroom teaching. To date, the programme has helped reach over 200,000 young people in more than 1,000 schools across the UK, but we’re only just getting started.

Job Prospects

Industry-organised events can have a huge impact on students and their interest in taking STEM subjects further. Industry leaders like us at TCS know what digital skills are relevant for the job market right now, and what employers are looking for.

By giving students a chance to explore technology outside of the classroom and connect with people working in STEM-related jobs, we’re connecting them with positive role models who can serve as examples to students who otherwise might have assumed STEM subjects are not for them. Through increased support from the technology industry and by working with the government, students can leave school with the necessary skills to secure a successful career while ensuring the growth of the industry.

The feedback from our Oxford Computing Challenge is proof that industry initiatives have the potential to inspire and challenge students.

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