Opinion

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Government should be using data to help solve digital skills gap

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For example, some 1.56m people are currently employed in digital industries – more than the entire NHS workforce; and the digital economy is growing 32 per cent faster than the rest of the economy. But while it’s great to have confirmation of and insight into the huge growth in digital tech, this isn’t where the story ends.

The real power of Tech Nation 2016 is that it has the potential to solve one of the biggest problems facing digital tech SMEs: a massive shortage of relevant skills.

One of the causes of that shortage is that until now, the government has had to rely on static data derived from individual companies responding to a survey. You’re given two years to respond and can only align yourself with a single sector. Plainly such a system was never going to be a match for the pace of change in digital tech. 

As a result, it’s been impossible to spot skills shortages from the state level until it’s too late.

This lack of up-to-date, company-level data is a global problem. Everybody in digital tech will be delighted that the UK government has recognised and responded to it by commissioning Tech Nation 2016. It is a massive step in the right direction.

Read more about overcoming the skills shortage:

But any efforts to support the growth of digital tech mustn’t stop there. If the UK’s digital economy is to achieve its full growth potential, it is vital that this report does not serve merely as a post-hoc justification of current policy. Now that the government has the most up-to-date picture of its digital economy that it has ever had, it must seize the moment and use that data to end the skills shortage.

To some extent we have been here before. Back in 2013, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research partnered with GrowthIntel to publish “Measuring the UK’s Digital Economy With Big Data“. The report highlighted the accelerated growth of digital SMEs and the causal link to the increase in demand for computer and data scientists.

Since then I’ve had to hire nearly a third of our GrowthIntel staff from overseas. Last year we took matters into our own hands by joining the Pivigo-run scheme Science to Data Science (S2DS). We joined 24 other firms in training 80 PhD students in data science. The outcome speaks for itself: in the three months following the training, 70 per cent of the students were offered jobs. S2DS is a fantastic scheme, but its success needs to be replicated at the state level for every discipline in digital tech.

The government now has the right data at its fingertips and the means to acquire more. I’m advocating on behalf of entrepreneurs nationwide that they capitalise on it to ensure the future supply of skills meets digital economic demand. 

Tech Nation 2016 states that digital tech alone is producing 5.3 per cent of national output. Imagine the result for UK plc if the digital tech skills shortage could be solved once and for all.

But the tech sector isn’t the only industry feeling the skills burn. Amid an ongoing skills gap, which has caused Britain’s recruiters to compete for talent, the top ten industries with the most demand for graduates – and the most popular degrees – have been revealed.

Tom Gatten is CEO of GrowthIntel.

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