Tech vacancies costing UK economy £6.3 billion

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The number of students taking IT GCSEs has fallen, and dependence on overseas talent is high

An estimated 600,000 vacancies in digital technology are costing the country £6.3 billion a year, according to a report on skills shortages by charity the Edge Foundation.

This figure comes from direct costs such as recruitment and temporarily filling staffing gaps.

Skills Shortages in the UK Economy brings together the most current statistics and analysis of skills shortages in the UK, highlighting a problem with the tech talent pipeline, likely to be further exacerbated by Brexit.

Report author and director of policy and research at Edge Foundation, Olly Newton warned of the need for technology- and digital-related subjects to be a core part of the national curriculum.

“If things continue as they are, in a couple of years there will be one million tech vacancies in the UK, and yet the number of students taking IT and computing GCSEs in schools has fallen by almost 15,000 [11%] in the past year alone,” he said.

Commenting on the report, shadow education minister Gordon Marsden said: “The scale of skills shortages in the UK is alarming, especially so when you consider that more than half a million of our young people aged 16 to 24 are not in education, employment or training.”

Having clear pathways into the sector was found to be especially important for women and girls, as currently only 17% of the UK’s IT specialists are female.

“In a sector like tech, where we already have a critical digital skills shortage, we simply cannot sit by as large groups of society become alienated,” commented India Lucas, skill, talent and diversity policy manager for non-profit techUK. “Tech cannot innovate if the minds behind it all think, act and look the same – diversity breeds innovation.

“We need to improve the representation of women and other groups in tech and much of this work starts in schools. We must do more to demystify the tech sector to students, teachers and parents; providing students with an insight into how our sector works in practice. One way of achieving this is through quality careers guidance and mandatory work experience,” she added.

Ethnic diversity in the tech sector is high, the report stated, with one in five technical roles filled by non-British staff. However, this diversity is being threatened by the uncertainty surrounding immigration post-Brexit.

Andrew Stevens, president and CEO of CNet Training, said: “Our labour pool is limited and without a dedicated pipeline. The responses [to this problem] must come from a collaboration between industry apprenticeship providers, higher and vocational education, schools, and industry representative groups.”

The Edge Foundation is calling on the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to ensure young people have the right skills to fill tech roles. Its recommendations include:

  • Adjusting the national curriculum to put creative and technical subjects at its heart
  • Giving schools more resources to give better careers information and guidance
  • Ensuring students have a better understanding of the opportunities in the digital technology sector
  • Building relationships between local employers and schools to make learning relevant to the world of work
  • Ensuring students have the confidence, resilience and key skills to take them to the next level of education, an apprenticeship or into work.

Newton stated that if the skills argument isn’t enough to provoke change, then the economic impact of inaction should be.

“If the government is not persuaded by the educational case for curriculum change in our schools, then the economic argument is incontestable. This report summarises the skills crisis in the tech industry and it’s not going away without some bold measures in our schools, colleges, universities and workplaces,” he said.

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