Digital skills crisis Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.Digital exclusion has no place in 21st Century Britain. While the Government is to be commended for the actions taken so far to tackle aspects of the digital skills crisis, stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems with digital education and training need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the Government’s forthcoming Digital Strategy. In this report, we address the key areas which we believe the Digital Strategy must deliver to achieve the step change necessary to halt the digital skills crisis and bring an end to digital exclusion once and for all. (Paragraph 15)

Digital Skills and business

2.As digital skills increasingly become the foundation of a competitive economy, businesses need to invest in digital training to increase productivity and stimulate innovation, or we risk the UK being left behind. The rapid pace of digital transformation is changing the nature of the UK workplace. We must equip the next generation not just with the skills that we know industry needs today but also with the skills they will need for a future not yet imagined. (Paragraph 26)

3.The Government’s new computing curriculum ... is world leading and, properly taught, has the capacity to transform the digital skills potential of the next generation. It will however take time to impact the workplace. To address immediate gaps, therefore, the Government should put in place coherent strategies to address the shortage of skills of particular strategic importance to the UK economy—including cyber-security, big data, the Internet of Things, mobile technology and e-commerce—and how these capabilities should be introduced in workforce training. (Paragraph 27)

4.The imperative for businesses to develop the digital skills of their employees is now a matter of survival. In order to maximise the opportunities that the digital economy presents, the Government should set out in its forthcoming Digital Strategy a plan for working with businesses to share best practice of, and scale up, existing business-led initiatives to upskill both employees and customers. These plans should include a framework through which the private sector could collaborate with communities and local authorities to raise digital skills in local SMEs and the wider community. (Paragraph 28)

5.In its forthcoming Digital Strategy, the Government needs to establish an effective pipeline of individuals with specialist skills in data science, coding and a broader scientific workforce that is equipped with a firm grounding in mathematics, data analysis and computing. The Strategy should commit the Government to annual dynamic mapping of public sector and industry initiatives and public spending on digital skills against the economic demand for those skills. This would help it assess the effectiveness of measures that are already in place in addressing the digital skills crisis, and create a long term mechanism for investment in and adjustment of the Digital Strategy to maximise its effectiveness. (Paragraph 29)

6.SMEs and start-ups are the wealth creators in the UK and should not be obstructed from hiring the talent they need to become more productive. The Government should review the qualifying requirements for the new IT roles added to the Tier 2 visa ‘shortage occupation list’, making it easier and more flexible for SMEs and start-ups to recruit top talent from outside the EU. (Paragraph 30)

7.Digital Champions are a useful lever to engage with those who are hardest to reach—those with low digital skills which makes them more receptive to face-to-face support. The Government should step up its Digital Friends initiatives to go beyond its cross-government approach by extending it widely across the public sector. (Paragraph 33)

8.The Government should take into account the recommendations from both the Shadbolt and Wakeham Reviews in the forthcoming Digital Strategy to help deliver the required supply of digital skills for the UK economy. With the opportunity now afforded by the delay in publishing the Digital Strategy, the reviews should be fully embedded in the Strategy. (Paragraph 42)

9.The Strategy should also include a commitment for the Government to work with the Tech Partnership to develop industry-led, vocationally focussed careers advice in universities that prepares the future workforce for the growth in digital. (Paragraph 43)

10.The Government should encourage universities to provide ‘code conversion courses’ to help graduates from non-computer science backgrounds to enter the tech sector with a recognised qualification. (Paragraph 44)

11.We recommend that the Government clarify the full extent of ELQ exemptions for STEM subjects as a matter of urgency. These exemptions should include STEM conversion courses and Digital and STEM Apprenticeships ... to encourage the use of the Apprenticeship Levy to upskill the existing workforce. (Paragraph 45)

12.The Government has promoted vocational skills as an equal-value alternative route for individuals and businesses in developing specialist digital skills. Apprenticeships are critical in ensuring the long-term future of the UK’s digital economy. They are now available up to degree level and offer flexibility for young people to learn work skills while they study and for the established workforce to gain valuable new skills. We welcome the establishment of the industry-led Institute for Apprenticeships. In the period until it is operational in April 2017, the Government needs to work closely with employers, higher education institutions and schools to understand the apprenticeship marketplace, to ensure that education aligns with industry’s requirements needs, and that apprenticeships are delivered in a flexible way to adjust to future changes in the digital sector. (Paragraph 54)

13.The Government should emphasise the need for more digital skills components in all apprenticeships, not just ‘digital apprenticeships’, to gear them to the needs for jobs across the economy. The Government should make digital skills the focus of its 3 million apprenticeship target. It should also work closely with industry, to encourage more women to pursue apprenticeships in the tech industry. (Paragraph 55)

14.The standards for the Government’s ‘Trailblazer’ industry-led apprenticeships reflect closely the input from larger businesses but, as a result, some SMEs may be unable to take advantage of the opportunities offered. The Government should review its Trailblazer initiative, making it more streamlined and accessible for SMEs. The Government should examine the scope for simplifying the scheme’s processes, to encourage business in the technology sector, especially SMEs, to invest in apprenticeships. (Paragraph 56)

15.The Government must also make it easier for industry to partner with universities and colleges to support student teaching. Industry, universities and schools should also collaborate in promoting work placements in an open and transparent way. This will make it easier for all students to have the opportunity to experience a ‘taster’ of the industry that may well lead to permanent employment. One way of facilitating such partnerships and collaborations for businesses would be to allow the cost to be written off against Apprenticeship Levy contributions. (Paragraph 57)

16.The Government should work with the Further Education sector to develop ‘Digital Colleges’ to replicate the National College for Digital Skills model across the country. (Paragraph 58)

Digital skills in schools

17.The Government has set targets for recruiting teachers in Maths and Physics. They should also make a similar pledge for Computer Science. This would demonstrate a commitment to equip our future generation with the tools and resources to navigate the digital world, and provide a means of monitoring progress. (Paragraph 62)

18.Every student must have access to education that enables them to participate in the growing digital economy. The Government deserves credit for its leadership in introducing the computing curriculum but there is still some way to go for it to become truly embedded in all schools, let alone delivered to a consistently high standard. Given that digital skills are of the highest priority to the future of the UK economy and the future chances of young people, we find it surprising that computing is not explicitly considered in Ofsted’s schools inspection framework.We recommend that the Government request Ofsted to include the computing curriculum in their inspections and require schools to deliver credible, sustainable plans for embedding computing. (Paragraph 67)

19.The Government should encourage the uptake of existing available resources by schools, many of which are free. Learning from the success of existing teacher support initiatives like The Big Write, and working closely with academia and industry, the Government should consider whether developing a similar model for computing will also help address gaps in IT resources. (Paragraph 68)

20.Furthermore, to ensure digital education in schools continues to keep pace with business needs in an evolving tech environment, we recommend that the Government work with the Tech Partnership to establish a regular forum for employers to raise and discuss their priorities for ensuring the computing curriculum and its teaching stay up to date, and to help ensure that other school subject qualifications provide a foundation for a broader range of digital careers. This forum—which could be attached to the minister-chaired Digital Engagement Council—would also be a springboard for ambitious expansion of industry support to schools, going beyond code clubs (discussed below) to include careers advice, Apprenticeship schemes and work placement programmes (paragraphs 46–53). (Paragraph 69)

21.Given the pace of technological advances, it will always be a challenge for schools to keep up with the latest innovations. As digital skills are increasingly becoming essential for industrial sectors, schools will need to invest in offering high quality computer science courses and upskilling teachers so that digital skills can become more mainstream rather than as a standalone subject. The Government seems to treat computer science as a separate subject rather than a mechanism to enhance learning across other subject disciplines. ICT teachers are now expected to teach the new computing curriculum, but too many do not have the qualifications or the confidence to teach computer science. The Government and industry deserve credit for efforts so far to embed the computing curriculum, including in the provision of free resources and training. However, it is clear that greater investment is necessary to address the teaching skills gap. We therefore recommend that the Government increase its investment in teacher training as a long term commitment and request that, as part of its monitoring of the delivery of the computing curriculum, Ofsted take into account the uptake of free resources and training. (Paragraph 74)

22.The Digital skills crisis includes not only shortages of key digital skills in the economy but also a shortage of qualified, confident ICT teachers. We commend Teach First and the Master Teachers initiative but, given the rate of loss to a highly attractive private sector, we believe that the ICT streams of these programmes should be scaled up to have any hope of delivering the sheer number of teachers needed for the long term health of UK digital education. (Paragraph 75)

23.So far financial incentives have not attracted sufficient computer science teachers to the profession. In its forthcoming Digital Strategy, the Government should review the case for financial incentives for recruiting and retaining computer science teachers in schools, mindful of the higher pay remuneration available in the private sector. As an interim solution to recruitment shortfalls, the Government should consider categorising computer science teachers as one of the ‘shortage occupations’, thereby making it easier for schools or local authorities to recruit from outside the EU. (Paragraph 76)

24.We have been impressed by the range of innovative and exciting coding and computing clubs and resources offered by industry for schools. Given the pace of innovation, industry will in many cases be best placed to provide the technical underpinning of these initiatives. We believe therefore that it is only common sense that take-up of these clubs and resources should be the norm for schools rather than the exception. It is vital that the Government encourages industry to scale up its involvement in these initiatives, and schools to grasp the opportunities that become available. (Paragraph 82)

25.We recommend that the Government works with the Tech Partnership to raise the ambition for, and coverage of, industry-led digital training, and to make it easier for businesses of all sizes to get involved. (Paragraph 83)

26.More young people—particularly girls—must be attracted to education and careers in computing. With only 16% of students studying computer science being female, the UK is missing out on a large talent pool. The Government needs to work with employers and educators to better understand and address why female students in schools, colleges and universities do not apply for digital courses and careers. However, the Government also needs to focus on other areas beyond gender—looking at other diverse backgrounds such as disability, ethnicity and disadvantaged socio-economic groups—so that children and young people can have a wide range of role models to inspire them to study and pursue careers in STEM. (Paragraph 89)

27.Employers can also actively engage with schools, acting as role models and mentors. Interest in computer science (and STEM) needs to be captured at primary school level, then maintained until key career defining choices are made in selecting subjects at GCSE and A’ level. (Paragraph 90)

A strategy for digital skills

28.We found that the digital skills crisis was present in all stages of the education and training pipeline. The publication of the Digital Strategy, and formulation of a coherent cross-Government policy, is thus long overdue. We cannot understand why the Government has put off publishing the Digital Strategy—15 months after the Lords Digital Skills Committee’s call for a ‘digital agenda’—even though it has apparently been written for some months. (Paragraph 99)

29.Given the significance of the digital agenda for UK plc and to ensure that the Strategy has sufficient weight in Government, and its cross-departmental elements are appropriately joined up, we recommend that the Digital Economy Minister attend Cabinet and a Minister in each relevant department be identified as responsible for delivery of the Government’s digital agenda. (Paragraph 100)

30.The gap between the digital skills that children and young people take into their working lives and the skills actually needed by the digital economy demonstrate that the problem is more than simply demand outstripping supply. It indicates that the UK’s approach to developing digital skills—although on the right track with a reformed school curriculum for computing, digital degree apprenticeships, and the Tech Partnership coordinating industry response—is still suffering the effects of long term historic weaknesses. (Paragraph 101)

31.The forthcoming Digital Strategy therefore needs to be more than just a catalogue of initiatives. It needs also to be more than just a programme of work for Government departments. We need to change the UK’s cultural perception of digital technology. By setting out a vision for the future, to be delivered by collaborative work between industry, educators and Government, the Strategy should be more than “aspirational”—a Strategy that actually delivers. (Paragraph 102)

32.The Digital Strategy should be published without further delay. It should include benchmarks and defined outcomes that are necessary to measure levels of success and decide on next steps. There should be goals for developing better basic digital skills, for increasing the number and diversity of students studying computer science, for increasing digital apprenticeships and for fostering digital champions, a plan for greater awareness of business-led initiatives, and a framework through which the private sector could more readily play a collaborative role with communities and local authorities in initiatives to raise digital skills in local SMEs. (Paragraph 103)

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10 June 2016