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Autumn Budget 2017: Ramping up the UK's digital, maths, science and construction skills

3 min read

22 November 2017

Hoping to bridge the UK's skills gap, chancellor Philip Hammond announced in his Autumn Budget numerous investments for training staff and educating pupils.

The Open University’s Business Barometer issued statistics in July, highlighting that the UK’s skills gap was costing organisations over £2bn a year. But given the transformation of the global corporate landscape, such a figure can no longer be afforded, chancellor Philip Hammond explained in his Autumn Budget.

“Meeting change head on means giving people the confidence to embrace it, and the skills to reap the rewards from it,” Hammond made clear. “We have a plan to do so. We’re delivering 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020 thanks to our apprenticeship levy. Of more consequence though is the building up of sectors which the UK has come to rely on.”

Technology was a large part of the Budget, with the chancellor announcing a £500m fund that will drive forwards initiatives responsible for fortifying the UK’s digital economy. As such, the effort to boost digital skills with £30m worth of investment in terms of distance learning courses and how to use artificial intelligence should be welcomed.

As was suggested by Guita Blake, SVP and head of Europe at Mindtree: “Whether businesses like it or not, artificial intelligence and robotics have increased the demand for tomorrow’s workers to understand emerging technologies, and the investment in digital skills and T-levels from the ground-up are a welcome introduction.”

Maths skills were also cited by Hammond as being invaluable to the UK, which is why he suggested expanding the Teaching for Mastery of Maths programme to a further 3,000 schools. Some £40m will be provided to train maths teachers across the country.

Incentives have also been waived across the table, with schools set to be given £600 for every additional pupil taking A-level or core maths.

“Computer science is also at the heart of our technology revolution,” Hammond maintained. “So we’ll ensure every secondary school pupil can study computing, by tripling the number of trained computer science teachers to 12,000. We also plan to work with the industry to create a new National Centre for Computing.

“Together with the Education Secretary, the government, the CBI and the TUC will be setting the strategic direction for a National Retraining Scheme [a factor previously brought to the fore in prime minister Theresa May’s 2017 manifesto]. Its first priority will be to support expansion of the construction sector.”

Indeed, over the next five years, the government aims to commit at least £44bn of capital funding, loans and guarantees to support the housing market and deliver 300,000 net additional homes a year by the mid-2020s. The endeavour will need a skilled workforce, which Hammond has promised £34m to help train in areas such as bricklaying and plastering.