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The Digital Skills Gap: Can the South West buck the trend?

Joe Bevan
Authored by Joe Bevan
Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2021 - 08:54

A new report commissioned by WorldSkillsUK has found demand for digital skills in the workplace is set to increase, but participation in digital skills training has declined. 

The number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has fallen by 40% since 2015, with the number taking A Levels, further education courses and apprenticeships all declining.

That’s despite 60 percent of businesses reporting that their reliance on advanced digital skills is set to increase over the next five years, with 88 percent of young people believing that their digital skills will be essential for their careers.

The research into the UK’s digital skills market has been published as ‘Disconnected: Exploring the digital skills gap’, with the Learning & Work Institute and Enginuity.

The report shows a worrying trend in the UK-wide digital skills landscape. But can the South West buck the national trend and build a digital-savvy, resilient workforce fit for the 21st century?

Dan Pritchard, co-founder of Tech South West, believes it can. He said: “The report puts on paper what we have been hearing for many months from the South West tech sector, education providers and employers in the region. The increasing importance of digital skills is placing a huge burden on employees and training providers to make sure graduates are match-fit for the digital demands of the modern workplace. 

“Through the Tech South West STEMM Group, run in partnership with Exeter-based software development company Software Solved, Tech South West works with employers and educational establishments across the region to support young people in the region to find the training opportunities they need, and build bridges between the learning environment and South West employers.”

The Great Big Talent Survey is currently underway to identify the most critical areas to develop in the South West talent pipeline, and help the Tech South West STEMM group develop a needs-driven approach to supporting tech and digital talent in the region. 

The work of the Tech South West STEMM Group is addressing an urgent need. According to the WorldSkillsUK report, under half of UK employers (48%) believe that young people are leaving full-time education with sufficient advanced digital skills and 76% of businesses believe that a lack of digital skills would hit their profitability.

But the issue goes beyond young people and conventional education channels.

The need for digital skills goes beyond specific vocations, as the report makes clear: “While demand for digital skills is particularly high in some sectors – such as IT and communications – it is notable that in every sector, there is a near universal demand for basic digital skills, and significant demand for advanced digital skills.”

Given the growing need for a digitally aware workforce across multiple sectors, opportunities in the region for adults to upskill and retrain will be vital in addressing the digital skills gap as technology evolves ever-faster and digital requirements become more deeply entrenched in roles which are not traditionally tech-focussed.

One programme that is providing such opportunities is the Train4Tomorrow programme, run by the Heart of the South West LEP (HotSW LEP) Digital Skills Partnership and delivered in partnership with local industry leaders including Bluescreen IT, Cosmic and The Learning People. 

The programme offers free, high quality, digital and technical training to adults across Devon, Plymouth, Somerset, Torbay, Cornwall and Dorset. The training is designed by employers in the region to meet their open and live vacancies.

Programmes like Train4Tomorrow will be crucial in helping local people to develop their digital credentials, upskill the region into increasingly digital roles, and tackle unemployment.

Whether the South West can truly outperform other UK regions and successfully bridge the digital skills gap will depend on collaboration and innovation from industry, educational providers and local authorities.

Tech South West is working to connect the tech and digital sector across the South West, develop the talent pipeline and showcase opportunities available in the sector.

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