Hard hitting report from Lords points to critical digital skills shortage
Current Careers guidance ‘poor and outdated’
The UK is at a tipping point: The country is not addressing its significant digital skills shortage and an incoming Government urgently needs to resolve this, a Lords report warns this week. The Digital Skills Committee ,also in its report , highlights the impact of changing technology on the labour market, with an estimated 35% of UK jobs at risk of being automated over the next 20 years.
The report, entitled “Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future”, urges the incoming Government to seize the opportunity to secure the UK’s place as a global digital leader by, among other things:
making digital literacy a core subject at school, alongside English and Maths;
viewing the internet as important as a utility, accessible to all; and
putting a single ‘Digital Agenda’ at the heart of Government.
The report also noted that there are certain sectors of society, and UK regions, falling behind at great cost to the economy; and that industry has a vital role to play in developing the right skills in the workplace, in further and higher education, and in schools.
The report says ‘It is evident that there are three major players—the Government, industry, and the education system—who must act together.’ But ‘ Currently the major players are not in synergy…’ and .. ‘the UK is structurally weak and has not yet created the right human capital, infrastructure and business environment to support a changing society’ and ‘It was clear from a range of witnesses that the Government was lacking the necessary comprehensive digital agenda which made the most of the digital opportunity’
The report continues ‘There is a huge opportunity for the new Government in May 2015. The incoming Government will need to join up better, be much more strategic as it coordinates and delivers policy, it will need to advocate and to champion change and sometimes it will need to reassure and safeguard. This does not mean bigger Government or necessarily more expenditure, but it does mean a smarter Government that uses technology better and tries to support all of its citizens to use technology and to benefit from its impact, as well as supporting the clusters of firms and organisations that can lead the digital economy.’
The Report is scathing about the quality of Careers guidance on offer. It states ‘Despite the positive picture put forward by the Government and Ms (Sue) Husband, the majority of the evidence said that current careers guidance was poor and outdated. Ms (Karen) Price described current careers guidance as “absolutely shocking” and as not working “for any sector or for any company”. This is particularly problematic given the predicted changes to the labour market; without the appropriate careers guidance and advice in place, young people (and the population in general), will not be able to make an informed decision about potential career choices.
‘Compelling evidence from Ms Price said that careers guidance needed to be turned “on its head” and that we should “do something transformational”. Dame Wendy and Lady Shields said that careers guidance needed to head for the “social network route”. The benefit of this approach was that it would allow you to “scale the advice and allow people, either as themselves or anonymously, to interact and have conversations about their future potential”.
‘The current careers guidance structure is outdated and does not support the needs of the future digitally-skilled workforce. It would be more appropriate to talk about ‘employment’ guidance. Industry has a vested interest in this; if employers want to close the skills gap and recruit the best individuals, they must have greater involvement.
And Para 174. ‘We believe that a radical rethink is required to inject imagination into employment guidance. An employment guidance service needs strong central leadership which coordinates local schemes.’
A cautionary note here. Most Young people are digitally savvy but while often masters of the social media , they can lack the skills to navigate careers advice websites without adult support. A report by Barnardos (2013) -Helping the inbetweeners: Ensuring careers advice improves the options for all young people- concluded that helpful though web and phone-based services can be, (Careers guidance can either be by telephone, through an internet portal, or face to face ,with an adviser ) ‘they can never truly replace the advice and guidance elements that are present in face-to-face interaction’.
Karen Price OBE, (see above) gave evidence on behalf of the Tech Partnership (Chief Executive, e-skills UK),
Sue Husband is Director, Apprenticeships and Delivery Service, Skills Funding Agency
“Careers advice is patchy, uninformed and often unimaginative.”— UK Forum for Computing Education (UKForCE) Written Evidence to Lords Committee on Digital Skills –September 2014