Britain’s digital industry is thriving. By 2020, 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected, supporting a digital economy worth as much as the rest of the UK economy combined. It’s not all good news though — our productivity and competitiveness is at risk. Why? Because of a severe shortage of digital skills. If we don’t do something about it we face losing our strength in a flourishing global digital economy. How do we solve it? The answer lies within our schools.
Boom or bust
With more than 500 million consumers across 28 nations, the European digital economy offers a fantastic opportunity for innovation across virtually every sector. The UK’s Digital Tech Industry is growing 32% faster than the rest of the UK economy (in turnover) and now accounts for 1.56 million jobs, 41% of which are in traditionally non-digital industries. In other words, digital business is booming.
Now for the bad news. Despite such staggering figures of growth, 72% of large companies and 49% of SMEs are suffering gaps in technical expertise as a result of a shortage in digital skills. The problem is systemic, with MPs arguing that urgent action is needed in order to deal with this skills crisis. As many as 90% of new jobs require digital skills to some degree and in order to meet this rapidly rising demand, we’ll need at least 745,000 additional workers before 2017. Without the right skills, our economic growth will falter, risking our position as a leader in the digital economy.
A flawed digital education
In the UK it is believed that 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills, a problem that MPs argue is rooted in education and training. According to a recent Government report, young people are leaving education without the skills that employers are looking for. This prevents them from entering the labour market and, with computer science students having one of the highest unemployment rates of any degree subject (13% compared to the average of 8% across all subjects), the quality and relevance of the education that students receive in terms of real world application has been brought into question.
The problem isn’t just within higher education though. This skills gap is present at all stages of the education pipeline, from schools right the way through to the workplace. According to the latest Government statistics, only 35% of ICT teachers hold a relevant qualification, with 22% of school IT equipment being ineffective.
It’s not all doom and gloom…
In order for our digital industries to thrive, we need people with the skills to drive those industries forward. The Government and schools have recognised this and are making a gradual shift towards delivering a better curriculum of digital technology in schools.
In September 2014, the Government transitioned from a flawed ‘ICT’ GCSE to a world class ‘Computer Science’ course in September 2014. This marks a significant and well-supported decision and yet, despite this, many ICT teachers don’t have the necessary qualifications to teach the new curriculum.
As we discussed in our recent post, the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning as the bottom 10% and in order to effectively teach their classes, teachers must be allowed to learn and develop as the subject the landscape changes and expectations change.
It’s well-documented that there’s a teacher shortage in the UK, but focusing on the quality of teaching within computing will not only support students in their careers, but boost the nation’s position within the digital economy.