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The shortage of digital talent in the UK is higher than ever but the skills business needs are too new to be part of the education system.

General Assembly

Looking for digitally-savvy people to help your business? Or feel like you have to ramp up your skills to keep up with digital trends? Then you're not alone.

While some 75 per cent of CEOs fret about the talent gap, studies estimate that there are currently 110,000 unfulfilled tech jobs in the UK alone. This number is expected to grow to 113,000 by 2015.

From developers to digital marketers, the shortage of digital talent in the UK is higher than ever. Compounding this is the fact that the digital skill set of the UK workforce is lagging behind demand. With entire industries refocusing on digital work, employees are forced to rethink their careers and the skills they demand.

“There are about 3,000 open web development jobs in London right now,” says Matt Cynamon, european director of General Assembly (GA), a global network of campuses providing education in “21st century skills”; everything from web development to data science. I met Matt at GA's London campus and asked him what he envisions as the most relevant skills for business today.

“After web development, product management has become really important. Then there's the very quantitative digital approach to marketing – intelligent, data-driven marketers is what businesses are after. We were also surprised at how strong the demand was for our data science programme.”

Since GA was founded in 2011, their campuses have spread across the world – from London and Berlin to Hong Kong, Sidney and New York. Their instructors – who are all “real world” practitioners – have included founders of Etsy and Facebook. Their students have come from giants such as American Express, Deutsche Telekom, and General Electric; but most of them are individuals trying to break into a new career, start their own business, or rise up in their current workplace.

Their curriculum is devised based on the skills that companies want, says Matt. This is how GA sees itself filling the skills gap. “We have a fantastic curriculum design team who spend a lot of time interviewing practitioners, CTOs, CEOs, and really breaking out what the core skills are that companies are hiring for. We then design educational programmes which reach those goals.”

By finding out about the needs of businesses directly and finding teachers who are working in the industry successfully, the GA classrooms are certainly more flexible than traditional education in adapting to the digital economy and employers' needs. But not that they see themselves as a replacement for university education; rather, GA are here to provide graduates, employees and entrepreneurs with more options and opportunities.

Says Matt: “We see ourselves complimentary to a traditional university experience. Traditional universities do a wonderful job teaching you how to be creative and come up with solutions. Where we step in is that next level of support; we are providing individuals with solid skills they need to be successful.”

A reason for the skills gap is that digital skills are still a very new trend – too new for our education system to be teaching them already. “It's easy to criticise universities and high schools for not teaching these skills. But to be honest, they are brand new – my feeling is not that schools have let us down by not teaching digital skills, but that it's quite obvious that most levels of education are going to start providing these sorts of skill sets because they become so ubiquitous. These are new fields and people are adapting.”

At the moment, graduates and professionals need all the help they can get to become more attractive to employers - and businesses need teams able to boost growth the digital way.

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