Digital skills crisis looms as pupils shun tech studies

schoolThe UK is still hurtling towards a “catastrophic” digital skills gap, with teenagers abandoning IT subjects at GCSE in their droves under the false impression that they will get on the job training.

So says a new study by Learning & Work Institute, which reveals that the number of young people taking tech subjects at GCSE has dropped 40% since 2015 at a time when demand for artificial intelligence, digital, data and robotics skills is soaring.

The LWI’s research, commissioned by WorldSkills UK, shows that 70% of young people expect employers to invest in teaching them digital skills on the job, but only half of the employers surveyed in the study are able to provide that training.

Fewer than half of British employers believe young people are leaving full-time education with sufficient advanced digital skills, while 76% of firms think a lack of digital skills would hit their profitability.

WorldSkills UK chief executive Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann claims there are four main reasons why the digital skills gap is widening across the country.

First is a lack of clearly-defined job roles in certain fields; second, a lack of understanding and guidance about potential career paths; third, a lack of relatable role models, and, finally, a difficulty in making many technical profession seem appealing to young people, especially young women.

Dr Bentley-Gockmann told the BBC: “I think there’s a challenge with the teachers themselves not understanding the possible careers – there’s a big opportunity for employers to go into schools to explain the range of job opportunities and help join the dots between what young people study in school and what that could lead to as a career. It’s important for employers to do this to ensure the future talent pipeline.”

WorldSkills UK runs a raft of digital skill competitions in a wide range of fields that are open to young people at college age and up. About 15,000 young people enter these competitions annually, which come with complementary training to help them to improve their skills further.

Dr Bentley-Gockmann said that he meets many youngsters who have no idea their hobbies can be turned into “high-rewarding job opportunities”, adding that : “There’s been a digital acceleration in all sectors, creating new skills needs.”

In January, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) reported that, while a number of sectors were severely impacted last year – with drops of 40.1% and 39.1% respectively for marketing and sales roles – digital, data and tech vacancies continued to grow.

According to IBM, there are already one million unfilled jobs in the IT sector, while a recent Accenture report claimed the digital skills gap could cost the UK economy as much as £141bn in GDP growth promised by investment in intelligent technologies over the next ten years.

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