How businesses can solve the UK’s digital skills conundrum


Think about how many connected devices you left the house with this morning, or how many apps and software programs you’ll use today.

Now, think about how different that was ten years ago.

It’s everywhere, and usable by everyone. We use it at work, at home, in between. As individuals, technology enables greater productivity, collaboration and fun.

Businesses are part of this revolution too, with a whole new generation of disruptive companies, such as Uber, Ocado and Airbnb.

Longstanding British companies, like Aston Martin and John Lewis, are also using technology to offer customers a whole new level of personalised service from smartphones, tablets, laptops and any other way customers want to connect.

Of course, the UK also benefits from the incredible technology innovations here and globally. According to TechCity, the UK’s tech sector has grown 32% faster than the wider economy and has created jobs 2.8 times faster than rest of the labour market.

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But, as an industry, I see us also potentially entering uncharted areas when it comes to getting – and keeping – the workers themselves into the technology industry.

We find ourselves struggling to find the people with the right skills to help us keep innovating – whether it’s web developers, software engineers, data analysts or IT security experts.

Salesforce recently surveyed more than 2,200 global technology leaders and found that among the top ten challenges they face, the IT skills gap has them most worried.

UK Government statistics confirm that 72% of large companies and 49% of SMEs are suffering from a tech skills gap right now.

I regularly hear about these challenges from our customers, partners and our teams internally – and we all share a real concern that the skills gap will continue to widen.

So what can we do?

I believe that the introduction of programming into the national curriculum in 2014 was long overdue and represents a significant step taken to ensure our youth are equipped with the most in-demand skills.

There are also outstanding volunteer-led non-profits like CoderDojo, which not only teach essential coding skills but make it fun by focusing on all the amazing things technology can do.

For example, at this year’s CoderDojo Coolest Projects awards, one of the winners was an 11 year-old girl who developed a robot that can solve a Rubik’s Cube in 15 seconds.

One of the biggest challenges we need to face as a sector is related to perception. I’ve spoken with people both young and old who assume that technology companies are monotonous, anti-social mole holes that attract awkward introverts.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we need people with not only technical skills, but with creativity and dynamic personalities. I work with many people who are incredibly social, dynamic and passionate about work, as well as the technology that creates businesses and changes lives.

I think also that there is an assumption that men are more natural fits to the idea of a career in tech. Unfortunately, this is a more difficult issue to deal with than the concept that only “geeks” want to work in tech.

It’s a deeply rooted issue, and I have to note that men do currently account for more than three quarters of all ICT specialists. And, while recent A-level results indicate an increase in the number of students completing maths and computing courses, boys still outnumber girls by nine to one in ICT subjects, according to JCQ.

We simply have to address the problem that half of our population today is underrepresented in the technology sector. It’s down to the companies in tech today to support the female talent we’ve recruited, and not only in terms of pay – though that’s clearly important.

We also need to give women access to the training and the mentorship to really grow their careers, and create and maintain leadership roles within organisations that women are willing and able to take on.

Having strong female role models will then, in turn, help young women understand that these roles can not only be desirable, but aspirable.

It’s also down to every single one of us – parents, aunts, uncles and teachers – to play our part and find solutions to this problem in a real-time manner too.

>See also: How to get more women on the journey to technology leadership: two female IT leaders speak up

We need to nurture young people, particularly girls, who are interested or talented in STEM-related subjects.

We need to demonstrate that there are long-term successes in aspiring to those roles, and most importantly, show with our actions that tech is no longer just a boy’s club.

Overall, the bottom line to me is clear: as a nation, we need to address this skills gap head on to make sure Britain does not fall behind. And we must empower our children in Britain today with the skills that support their success tomorrow.

Tech is exciting, fun, innovative and eye opening. It’s going to drive the future of Britain. Let’s give our children the opportunity to sit behind the wheel and steer.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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