Digital skills will power British economy

Apprenticeship schemes have a vital role to play in closing Britain’s digital skills gap

Apprenticeship schemes have a vital role to play in closing Britain’s digital skills gap and growing the economy, says David Stokes, chief executive of IBM UK and Ireland

The technology and digital skills gap is casting a greater shadow of doubt over the long-term health of the UK economy.

Technology plays an increasingly sophisticated role in our lives and will continue to be at the heart of growth and jobs creation over the coming years. However, employers are undoubtedly aware of the lack of skills to meet the opportunities of the digital era.

The UK is one of the most digital nations in the world, with the tech industry contributing over £91bn to the  economy last year. As it stands, 7.5 per cent of the UK workforce is employed in digital industries and 12.4 per cent of our GDP is attributed to technology and digital business –the highest of any G20 country.

According to Employer Insights more than 70 per cent of large companies and close to 50 per cent of smaller firms are suffering from the skills gap.

A digital nation will be a successful nation but if the UK cannot keep pace with the demand of producing and adopting digital technologies, a competitor country will.

Digital progress

There is still reason to be positive. August saw a record high in the number of students taking STEM A-level subjects, the figure having increased by more than 38,000 since 2010.

Similarly, computer sciences applications at university are up 12 per cent, to 108,640 – the greatest percentage increase of any of the other top 10 most studied subjects. This is good news for British companies looking to build today’s workforces with a view to the business demands of the future.

For some of the most creative and innovative young minds the traditional paths of education aren’t always the most attractive.

With the escalating costs of higher education and a general wider acceptance that traditional means of academia are not always the best fit, the apprenticeship route is rapidly gaining popularity and industry recognition.

It’s important that all students are aware of the full range of opportunities open to them upon leaving school, which include gap year schemes, apprenticeship programmes and the new degree apprenticeship programme.

It’s equally important that employers understand this too if they are to fully benefit from the depth and skills of the undoubted talent pool out there.

By 2030 millennials will account for 75 per cent of the global workforce and the education and training they receive will be crucial to the UK’s continued economic success.

As the composition of the workforce evolves, so must our perceptions about how we arrive at the end goal – a capable, digitally intuitive workforce.

With the requirement for ICT workers predicted to grow by nearly 40 per cent by 2030, and nearly 750,000 additional workers required by 2017 alone, the challenge is clear to see for all. It is therefore important that we as a nation, as well as individual businesses, look at all the possible ways to deliver this.

By acknowledging corporate apprentice schemes for what they are – invaluable, fresh approaches that allow businesses to remain inclusive and contemporary – we will be able to dismantle long-held social and institutional perceptions that apprenticeships are the ‘poor relation’ to university education.

If we can do this, the future of our digital and technology space, as well as the wider economy, will be in safe hands.


About author

David Stokes

David Stokes

David Stokes is chief executive of IBM UK & Ireland, one of the tech giant's largest international operations

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