Awareness is key for unlocking the futures of British students and businesses

It is unquestionable that there is a skills gap in the UK, especially when we talk about the bourgeoning digital and technology sectors. 

Only last month a report was published by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), showing demand for IT workers had increased, yet permanent roles hit a 25-month low, resulting in a gap which is growing by 134,000 vacancies over the last year.

It is this skills gap that is currently casting a shadow of doubt over the long-term vitality of the UK’s economy. Specifically it’s the difficulty of recruiting the right people with the right skill-sets to continue to grow the UK’s digital and wider economy.

The UK is the most digital nation in the world, with the tech industry contributing over £59bn to the economy; 7.5 per cent of the entire UK workforce is employed in digital industries and 12.4 per cent of our GDP is attributed to technology and digital business – the highest of any of the G20 countries.

Nurturing STEM education can take British firms into the future, says IBM's UK chief exec

Maintaining the UK’s prominent position at the global top table when it comes to the digital and technology spaces is one of the core challenges facing the country today. 
There are however, positive signs that both education and business are making significant progress in addressing this shortfall, and safeguarding the economy as a whole.

As of August this year, more than 33,000 STEM exams were entered into by senior school students (an increase of 500 on 2014), and from September, tuition fee loans for STEM courses will now be available to students in England that already have a higher-level qualification. 

This will help those already in the workforce or with non-STEM degrees to up-skill, which is an important step towards closing the skills gap that has developed over the past years.

Globalisation and the continuing development of transformational technologies are driving the need for the quickest corporate transformation since the industrial revolution, but thankfully both education and business are responding with a pragmatic approach.

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While graduates have always been a source of new blood for the tech industry, in today’s fast moving, digitally fuelled environment, some of the most creative and innovative young minds simply aren’t attracted to the parochial paths of more traditional education. 

Thankfully students and (increasingly) employers are aware of these shifting sands, and more and more are turning to apprenticeships to fill the ever-increasing tech skills gap in the UK. 

The key to this whole process is awareness. It’s critical that all students are aware of the full range of opportunities open to them upon leaving school, and it’s equally important that employers understand this too, if they are to fully benefit from the depth of talent pool.

While more and more businesses are introducing apprenticeships, a concerted effort is still required across all industries (not just digital and technology) to meet the future demands of industry, as well as to make sure these apprentices gain the skills they need to actively contribute to Britain’s digital future.

As the digital space continues to shape the workforce of tomorrow it is imperative that businesses and educational institutions adapt accordingly. And although it may sound a cliché, the future of Britain and our wider digital service economy truly is in the hands of the educational practices and institutions of today.

While we have not reached a solution to the digital skill gap just yet, the increases in apprenticeships and study of STEM subjects at both school and university is proof that the UK is on the right course and that our perceptions of what constitutes solid and effective education is at last changing – long may this ‘liberalism’ continue!

Jenny Taylor is the UK graduate, apprenticeship & student programme manager at IBM

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