Mind the skills gap: building a workforce for the digital economy

It’s London Tech Week, the annual showcase for the UK’s technology sector – bringing together global leaders and rising stars of the industry to discuss the future. At the forefront of many conversations taking place this week, the role of data and technology in rebuilding our economy is sure to be front and centre.

The experience of Covid-19 has demonstrated the great value of data-driven technology. In many respects, we’ve seen a tech driven response to the pandemic, with the deployment of apps, data analytics and data science to help us find solutions and respond to the biggest challenge humanity has faced in a generation.

The pandemic has also fast-tracked several trends that were already in motion – one of those is the digital transformation of our economy. Online retail sales experienced four years of expected growth in just 12 months, rising from 12% to more than 34% of total retail spend in 2020 – a level that previous estimates anticipated wouldn’t be reached until the start of 2025.

As a result, tech talent is in demand and the UK needs to invest in developing and nurturing the next generation. Specifically, developing data skills will be fundamental. Our digital economy needs more people with expertise working with data – for example data analysts, data scientists, data engineers and software developers.

Last week, the ONS revealed that the number of vacancies in the three months to August rose above one million for the first time since records began in 2001. Although much of this is driven by a shortage of workers in sectors such as social work and hospitality, there is also a challenge in attracting the next generation to pursue a career working with data and technology.

Misperceptions about what’s required could be a significant barrier. In a recent poll we found over two thirds of students (68%) wrongly believe you require key STEM qualifications to work in the data and tech sector. Almost three quarters (72%) also believe that you need specific skills to apply for related jobs.

The study follows on from a recent report published by the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) which highlighted the UK faces a ‘data skills shortage’, with up to 234,000 job roles requiring data skills currently vacant. A lack of talent in the field would severely dent the Government’s ambition for the UK to become a world leader in data, as outlined in its National Data Strategy.

Clearly, as an industry we need to do more to entice students from a wide range of backgrounds into careers working with data. Diversity of thought is a key ingredient in developing innovation. We need perspectives and experiences from a variety of backgrounds to really drive success. Those in education today are increasingly being driven by the idea of finding a career in which they can make a difference. We should be doing more to showcase the UK’s thriving technology sector. How it is helping tackle big challenges and shaping the future of our economy.

Written by Jonathan Westley, chief data officer at Experian

Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice consists of the best articles written by third parties and selected by our editors. You can contact us at timothy.adler at stubbenedge.com