In 2016, the UK secured a £6.8 billion venture capital and private equity digital tech investment; over 50% more than any other European country. It’s no surprise then that the Prime Minister Theresa May has declared digital skills as the future of Britain and the driving force behind the Government’s Industry Strategy.
That said, there are still significant regions – particularly in the North – that have a dearth of the right skills. Organisations struggling to keep pace with changing technology trends are throttling digital transformation success and threatening to hold back business prosperity.
Indeed, Tech Nation’s 2017 report states that more than 50% of digital tech businesses reported talent supply is their number one growth challenge. Given we live in an era where digital is not just threatening to, but actively disrupting every industry, this lack of skills represents a significant risk to organisations of all sizes.
This becomes even more evident when we consider whether the Government’s own Digital Strategy can be a success in fostering technology innovation and growth for businesses across the country.
At the same time, the apprenticeship levy kicks off on 1st April. How many organisations are seeing this as an opportunity to overcome these gaps in skills? The Government is giving employers an incredible level of freedom to choose the type of apprenticeships they want to develop, removing barriers such as restrictions around age. For example, there has been a specific change in criteria as to how apprentices are defined, to agree who qualifies for the finance.
Apprentices are no longer funded by age band and any person, irrespective of age can complete an apprenticeship as long as this is new and justifiable training which adds complementary qualifications for their job role.
Advanced sees this as an opportunity for organisations to use this as a springboard for a skills development programme for new apprentices, as well as looking within their own workforce to create new career paths.
It is certainly providing the flexibility needed to address those precise gaps – like digital skills – where Britain is in danger of falling behind, thus preventing the problem from becoming more acute.
That’s why we need forward thinking, innovative companies in the North that understand how getting ahead in building an agile workforce – with the right balance of the latest digital skills – can create a global Britain that delivers for all communities across the UK.
Organisations already looking ahead want to embrace change, implementing digital transformation programmes that put customers at the heart of their strategy and improving customer services and product development and delivery. By becoming flexible, they’ll stay one step ahead, ready to seize opportunities that can’t even be predicted at this stage.
The apprenticeship levy is broad enough to recognise that digital skills need to be kept up-to-date, to keep up with the pace of change. With digital constantly evolving, existing employees can undertake apprenticeship training for continual professional development (CPD) purposes, keeping talent fresh and at the forefront of innovation.
Of course, by developing an appetite for new skills within this apprenticeship community, it will undoubtedly help them to progress within the organisation, delivering an inspiring attitude that embraces what’s new and original.
At the same time, employers will come to recognise that creating a dynamic workforce may well ignite a new passion within their existing teams. Building a more digitally skilled workforce is the secret to ongoing success, not only for business but for the Government, which is why initiatives created within the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ are so important.
Currently, UK digital tech companies rely on an overwhelmingly male workforce, outnumbering women by at least three to one. There are excellent examples in the North designed to close the well-documented North South Digital Divide along with the initiatives that will deliver a technology workforce that is both skilled and diverse. These include:
Tech UK’s Returners Hub – a one-stop shop for people looking to return to the tech sector and for tech companies interested in starting their own returners programme
Tech North’s Northern Voices – a speaker training programme to address gender and regional imbalances at conferences and media appearances
Manchester Metropolitan University’s Digital Innovation – a project that gives students and staff access to emerging technologies as well as creates opportunities for students to work with companies on “live” and industry-relevant projects
Manchester Digital’s Diversity Toolkit – launching in May, a resource for digital and tech businesses to help them attract and retain a diverse workforce.
Although the shortage in digital skills development poses a real threat, we believe firmly that businesses who choose to seize this period of intense disruption, use the levy to focus on digital skills and focus across the regions, will be key to unlocking the potential of initiatives such as those within the Northern Powerhouse.
Only from these foundations can Britain hope to create sustainable innovation, growth and prosperity.
Sourced by Gordon Wilson, CEO, Advanced