We must tackle the worrying trend in digital skills and qualifications

28 Mar 2021, 9:19

Our latest report reinforces findings that the digital skills gap is gendered and has regional biases, writes Emma Roberts

Essential, and in demand. This is the stark message from employers about the absolute necessity of high-quality digital skills. Yet a worrying trend is emerging. While employer demand for digital skills is set to continue to grow, participation in digital skills training has declined.

The number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has fallen by 40 per cent since 2015, with the number taking A-levels, further education courses and apprenticeships all declining.  

We partnered with the Learning and Work Institute and engineering sector support body Enginuity to better understand the supply and demand issues around the digital skills gap, from the point of view of young people and employers.  

Our research report, Disconnected: Exploring the Digital Skills Gap, shows three key findings.  

‘Work to do’

Firstly, there is a mismatch between supply and demand, with 60 per cent of employers interviewed stating that digital skills will become even more important to their business in the next five years.

However, analysis shows that the number of students training in digital skills is on a downward trend and only 18 per cent are very confident that they have the advanced digital skills that employers are looking for.

Secondly, the digital skills gap has a strong regional bias, with career opportunities overly concentrated in London. Yet analysis of our training programmes shows there are hotspots of digital skills being developed in South Wales, Glasgow, Manchester and many other places across the UK.  

Thirdly, and even more worryingly, there is a significant gender gap, with young women reporting they are both less confident and less interested in digital careers compared to young men.  

The findings are even more important when you look at how the UK compares to other countries.

We know from research from consultancy firm EY that when international investors are looking at where to invest, skills are one of the most important factors they consider.

Our international benchmarking also shows that we have some work to do. At the last three international WorldSkills events, the UK ranked ninth across the digital competitions out of 38 countries, with Singapore, China and Russia all ahead of us.

This shows that we need to go further to ensure more young women and men are motivated to take up digital careers and that they can access world-class training.

‘Showcase these in-demand skills’

Now we want to act on the outcomes of this research, and are committed to three key actions.

Our careers advocacy programmes will engage 50,000 young people from all backgrounds, over the next 12 months.

We will also introduce peer role models who use digital skills in their careers, ensuring at least half are female, in our social media campaigns.

Additionally, through a strategic review of our national competitions programme, we will identify how digital skills should be developed ahead of the 2022 competitions cycle.

Calling for digital skills to be embedded in the next global review of WorldSkills standards will help ensure that they are expected alongside exceptional technical and mindset skills.

Lastly, we will continue showcasing the most in-demand digital skills within our competition portfolio, nationally and internationally.

By striving to achieve ever-higher standards in areas such as cyber security, building information modelling and 3D game art, we will aim for a top five place in the global finals of the digital skills competitions in WorldSkills Lyon in 2024.

We also expect significant progress to be made towards that target at WorldSkills Shanghai in 2022.

We want to reverse the downward trend in digital education and training, by working with our partners to show that digital careers are for everyone and driving up standards in digital training.

We want to inspire more young people to take up digital skills courses at college and digital apprenticeships as routes to real success in work and life. This can help young women and men prosper and ensure employers access the high-quality employees they need.


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