MPs Urge Government Action on IT Skills Crisis

Digital exclusion remains "stubbornly high" and education isn't providing the skills employers need, Commons report finds.

IT skills shortage

By Matthew Broersma

The government needs to do more to address a digital skills gap that is costing the British economy £63 billion a year in lost productivity and risks damaging the U.K.'s competitive position internationally, MPs have warned.

British educational institutions are failing to deliver the skills employers need and the government has yet to present a coherent vision for setting the situation right, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee found in a new report on what it called the "digital skills crisis."

Digital Exclusion 'Stubbornly High'

The report found that digital exclusion remains "stubbornly high" in spite of efforts to reduce it, with an estimated 23 percent, or 12.6 million, of the U.K. population lacking basic digital skills such as the ability to use devices to access the Internet.

Nearly 6 million people have never used the Internet, while only 35 percent of computer teachers in schools have a relevant degree and 70 percent of the required number of computer science teachers have been recruited, the report found.

It found 22 percent of IT equipment in schools is ineffective, that the United Kingdom needs another 745,000 workers with digital skills by next year and that 90 percent of jobs require some degree of digital skills.

The report said that "systemic problems with digital education and training" need to be addressed in the government's forthcoming digital strategy and questioned why it has taken so long for the strategy to be forthcoming.

Coherent Vision

MPs applauded particular government efforts such as the introduction of a digital curriculum in schools and the expansion of the apprenticeship program, but said that as yet there no vision has been presented that brings these initiatives together in a coherent way.

"We need to make sure tomorrow's workforce is leaving school or university with the digital skills that employers need," said committee chair Nicola Blackwood MP in a statement. "We need action on visas, vocational training and putting digital skills at the heart of modern apprenticeships."

The report called for digital skills to be made one of the core components in all apprenticeships and not just those focused on digital skills, better digital careers advice in universities, university courses to help graduates from non-computer fields enter the tech sector, reforms to IT job visa requirements and a simplification of apprenticeship scheme processes to make it easier for smaller businesses to participate.