Innovating Up

Unlocking growth in towns and cities

Why geography doesn’t have to be destiny when it comes to digital skills training

At a Glance

For decades where you are from and where you choose to live has determined the type of skills and training you can access, in a digitally enabled economy we need to remove these restrictions on individual potential, argues Atos’ Kavi Pelpola.

6 Minute Read

Kavi Pelpola

Chief Digital Officer UK & Ireland, Atos

Breaking old habits

More than 200 years ago the industrial revolution ushered in an age of migration, with people flooding into rapidly expanding cities in search of work. The industrial revolution – and the deindustrialization which followed it at the end of the last century – has left behind it an economic landscape that sees opportunities for skills training concentrated in a few key locations.

As a result, for many years it has been the case that if you want to gain certain skills you are likely to have to uproot yourself to move to an area where this training is available. This has been true of digital skills, with certain areas emerging as hubs for this type of training. And yet, while this has been true there is no reason why opportunities for digital skills training should be so unevenly distributed across the country.

The Levelling Up agenda rightly identities the key role of skills in helping to rebalance the UK economy. Through recasting skills training in the UK, Levelling Up can halt the uneven flow of talent, providing other regions outside of London and the South East with the opportunity to benefit from the growth of the digital economy.

Closing the digital skills gap

Broadening access to digital skills and training is made all the more important because the UK today faces a major shortage of talent across key digital disciplines, including cyber security, big data analytics and technical architects.

Research by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS) has found that the recruitment pool for cyber security professionals alone has a shortfall of nearly 10,000 people a year, despite being one of the most sought after tech skills in the UK.1This is not simply a problem for the tech sector, digital skills are an integral part of key roles in every part of the economy, studies from the UK Government have found that 82% of all jobs in the UK list digital skills as a requirement.2

Jobs requiring digital skills typically pay more than those that don’t

With an average salary of £37,000 a year as a opposed to £28,000 for jobs that do not require digital skills.2

Closing the digital skills gap therefore provides an important route towards Levelling Up the UK economy through creating well-paying jobs and opportunities beyond London and the South East. In this context moves to broaden the range of high-quality and flexible education and training opportunities available in the UK are important, but business needs to build on these opportunities through our own programmes. Huge scope exists for organisations to work together to broaden skill training opportunities and at Atos we have partnered with initiatives like the Bright Network and Talent01 to bring talented graduates from a diverse range of backgrounds onto our specialist digital transformation teams.

Acting locally on digital skills

Increased funding for programmes related to digital skills and training will be important, but it can only be part of the solution. Different parts of the UK face different challenges, therefore the type of digital skills that these areas might benefit from and the way that these can be made more accessible will often vary significantly.

In the Levelling Up White Paper the UK Government announced the creation of Local Skills Improvement Plans, providing local businesses and educators with a formal role in planning skills training in their areas in order to meet local needs. This is a crucially important step to generate a pipeline of talent with a range of digital capabilities that accelerates innovation, creates pioneering technologies and supports the revitalisation of those areas most in need.

To ensure that Local Skills Plans are successful in delivering skills training that is suited to the needs of local communities, it will be essential for business to step up and play its part in identifying the digital skills to be incorporated as part of these plans. Furthermore this is not something that should be left to business or local employers alone, where appropriate there is significant scope to involve a wider range of sectoral experts who can work with business to develop plans able to unlock the economic potential of communities through digital.

A future fit skills agenda

Future proofing our approach towards skills training will require creativity and flexibility on the part of policy makers and businesses alike. Despite the many obstacles to delivering this, recent years have seen important steps in the right direction. For example, business has rightly welcomed the decision to establish a new data hub to allow those seeking work to know what skills employers are looking for. This will provide vital information for local leaders as they look to develop their own Local Skills Improvement Plans and other initiatives to deliver skills training tailored to local needs.

The creation of a new Future Skills Unit within the Department for Education will also be vital to ensure that regionals skills needs and shortages are being addressed. Through ensuring access to appropriate, high-quality skills and training opportunities in every part of the UK we can remove one of the biggest factors forcing people to move in order to secure work. It should no longer be the case that if you want to work in a specific sector or industry this requires you to transplant yourself to another part of the county. Furthermore, through ending the cycle of those seeking specific skills or training opportunities needing to move we can encourage local skills clusters to grow and develop in places where this would previously have not been possible. Enabling people to live and work where they choose will be transformative, both for them and the communities they choose to live in.

Key Takeaway

Digital skills hold out the opportunity for us to achieve this, but it is essential that we build on the tentative progress made so far through ongoing collaboration between businesses and policy makers at the national and local levels.

If we can do this we can look forward to a future where geography is no longer destiny for those who want to live in and contribute to their local communities and it is those communities, and the UK as a whole that will be richer for it.

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Kulveer Ranger, Head of Strategy, Marketing, Comms & Public Affairs, Northern Europe & APAC, Atos