MPs to look at FE and skills sector role as part of BIS Select Committee ‘digital economy’ inquiry

Further education is set to come under the spotlight with the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee having announced a new inquiry into “the digital economy”.

Committee chair, and Hartlepool’s Labour MP, Iain Wright told FE Week that he wanted to look at, among other issues, government actions to ensure the availability of a workforce with the skills to support businesses in the digital economy.

Mr Wright said: “I have a broad ambition to look at the FE and skills sector in detail in the upcoming evidence sessions.

“We will be looking into apprenticeships related to digital skills in the session and we will review the current apprenticeships provided, and how they could be improved.”

He added: “Apprenticeships are of key importance in the digital skills sector of FE and we want to know how traditional businesses are continuing and progressing in this new digital economy.

“Newly qualified plumbers, for instance, should be able to engage with their local FE provider and be able to expand their business on forms of social media in a flexible and fast changing way.”

The inquiry was launched on Monday, September 21, and the committee is seeking written submissions addressing digital skills issues, among others.

Evidence sessions are yet to be announced, as are witnesses, but Mr Wright said he also wanted to look at the role of the government and its record in helping to produce a skilled workforce for the digital sector.

“I want to really push the government to find out what they will do to make sure apprentices and FE students have the skills to support businesses in the digital economy,” he said.

The committee will also be covering how businesses can utilise digital infrastructure to improve their performance and address the lack of women studying science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects in FE.

He said: “Women in Stem will be a key part of the discussion as we want to know what we can do to get more women involved in it.”

The committee further intends to pick up on the issues raised in the report on digital skills from the House of Lords select committee chaired by Lady Morgan in February.

It emphasised the importance of training and education to keep pace with the constantly advancing technological field.

Mr Wright said: “The key message I have about the upcoming digital economy inquiry is that I really want to encourage a bold and ambitious investigation and want an array of people who care about digital skills to contribute and share their ambition for the sector.”

The development of digital skills is one of six strands off inquiry for the committee. It will also be looking at the following:

1 – What are the major barriers to UK business success in the digital economy? What steps could the Government take to help businesses to overcome these barriers?
2 – How effective are UK financial markets in supporting the digital economy? What actions could the Government take to improve their effectiveness?
3 – What lessons can be learned from the Government’s support of tech start-ups and other measures targeted at the digital economy? How is this developing around the regions and nations of the United Kingdom?
4 – Does the UK’s Intellectual Property regulatory regime provide effective protection for the digital economy and sufficient scope for innovation and competition?
5 – What actions could the Government take to foster the development of potentially disruptive technologies? Are further safeguards warranted to help existing businesses adapt to the impact of these technologies on their traditional business models?

“Digital technology is rapidly changing the economic landscape in which firms operate. Nothing short of a digital and tech revolution is taking place, with new entrepreneurs and business models emerging and existing businesses having to adapt quickly to keep pace,” said Mr Wright.

“There are huge opportunities for competitive advantage for UK firms, but also real challenges.

“The BIS Committee wants to evaluate existing initiatives by the Government and to consider what other actions the Government might take to enhance the UK digital economy.

“We want to hear from all those interested and involved in this area, whether you are a tech entrepreneur ambitious to start a business or  a company in an established part of the economy hoping to use digital technology to improve your business, so we can help ensure that the UK is at the forefront of the global digital economy.”

The closing date for submissions to the BIS digital economy inquiry is Thursday, October 29. Click here to send in submissions.

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