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Working together to close the skills gap

Across government we are pushing to equip workers for the modern world

Photo: Pixabay

Right now, every government in the world is agonising over the same predicament: how to create the best environment for their countries to bounce back from coronavirus.

For this government, part of that recovery has to be driven by tech. Covid-19 has increased our dependency on technology; likewise, technology holds the key to fuelling a new era of growth in the UK. That means getting more non-tech businesses online—like local shops and other small- and medium-sized businesses. And it means making sure this country remains one of the most attractive places in the world to grow and build a tech company of the future. Right now, people in government are thinking hard about how to achieve both of those aims.

But none of this will work if the broader UK population isn’t equipped to cope with this new digital reality. So perhaps the most important priority is boosting the digital skills of the entire nation—starting from the most basic level of digital competence and moving all the way up to high-tech specialisms like advanced coding. Only that way will employees learn the skills that employers actually need.

Employers of the past used to look for people with a quick typing speed, or who knew their way around Word and PowerPoint. Today’s employers need software developers or people adept in digital marketing or data analytics.

The government is investing £2.5bn through a National Skills Fund to help adults learn these and other valuable proficiencies. This includes a pot of £8m for digital and technical bootcamps—short, flexible courses tailored to prepare people for roles employers are struggling to fill. They’re perfectly placed to give workers who may have lost their job in the pandemic a leg up into a new digital career.

As we work on building a digital workforce, we need to make sure that no one in the UK is left behind. That’s why, as of August, adults with no or low digital skills are now legally entitled to undertake new digital qualifications free of charge, just as they can with English and maths.

At the start of the pandemic we launched a separate initiative called The Skills Toolkit, an online learning platform offering access to free, high-quality courses to help people progress in work and boost their job prospects. The platform is open to all and has recently expanded to include more than 70 courses in digital, numeracy and workplace learning.

But we cannot fulfil our ambition with only a broad brush of national measures. Skills gaps vary from region to region and so it’s vital we respond with a localised approach. That’s why at the start of October we launched our seventh Local Digital Skills Partnership, in West Yorkshire, which brings together local employers, academics, training providers and public sector organisations to tackle regional digital skills gaps and advance digital inclusion.

Clearly, one of the best times to train people in the digital disciplines required to live and work in the modern world is while they’re still in school or college. To help teachers improve their own skills as well as their pupils’, we’ve invested £84m in the National Centre for Computing Education, led by the country’s top tech experts, with a mission to boost schools’ abilities to deliver GCSE computer science across England. We’re pleased to say that in September we hit an important milestone, as 1,272 teachers completed its landmark professional development programme, with over 2,500 more participating in the programme and working towards certification.

Coronavirus has upped the pace of change in our economy. It is our top priority to ensure the workforce stands ready to not just adapt to this change, but to embrace the benefits digital technology has brought to our lives and businesses.

Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture and Gillian Keegan, Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills

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