The UK is at a tipping point and with an estimated 35 per cent of UK jobs at risk of being automated over the next 20 years, an incoming government urgently needs to resolve this, a Lords report warns.
The Government is not doing enough to prepare the UK for the future labour market, and failure to act now will see UK Plc trail behind. We need to harness the potential of regional hubs and SMEs, which are being held up through a lack of skills.
“This is a wake-up call to whoever forms the next Government in May,” said chair of the committee Baroness Morgan. “Digital is everywhere, with digital skills now seen as vital life skills. It’s obvious, however, that we’re not learning the right skills to meet our future needs.”
The report found that at all ages, from primary to secondary, to further and higher education, there is a significant s gap in skills education. Industry needs to play a role in plugging this gap, particularly by offering more – and better – apprenticeships. We need a culture shift in our attitude towards cybersecurity, and must ensure we train enough people with the right skills.
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“It’s been made clear that our approach to educating people of all ages needs a radical re-think,” said Morgan. “From an early age we need to give digital literacy as much importance as numeracy and literacy. While we welcome the introduction of the computing curriculum, we are concerned about the ability of teachers to deliver it, with more than half of our IT teachers not having a post-A level qualification relevant to IT. At the higher education level, there is an urgent need for industry input, so that graduates are learning job-relevant digital skills.”
The report recommends that digital literacy should be taught as a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy. While the Committee welcomed the new computing curriculum, it was concerned about who was going to teach it, as many teachers are not confident or equipped to deliver relevant digital skills.
“Internet provision in the UK needs a definite boost,” she added. “It’s unacceptable that some urban areas still experience ‘not-spots’, particularly where the lack of internet directly affects the UK’s ability to compete. Also, in some parts of the UK, as many as 20 per cent of the population has never used the internet. Only when the government treats the internet as a utility, as important and vital for people as water or electricity, will these issues be addressed.”
Some six million citizens have never used the internet, partly through being poorly served at school. The report highlighted that digital inclusion is potentially worth £63bn a year to UK GDP.
“Our overwhelming recommendation is that the incoming government creates a Digital Agenda, with the goal of securing the UK’s place as a leading digital economy within the next five years,” Morgan continued. “Digital skills can no longer be dealt with by individual departments – this must all join up. We urge the new Government to create a Cabinet Minister post to steer this Digital Agenda through.
“We are at a make-or-break point for the future of the UK – for its economy, its workforce and its people. We have a choice as a country about whether we seize this opportunity or whether we fall behind. This report declares that the UK must aim to be a global digital leader, and only clear leadership from the government will get us there.”