The government is not doing enough to address the UK's digital skills shortage, putting the nation's technology industry at risk, a Lords report has warned.
The Digital Skills Committee's Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future report said that the UK must provide the digital skills needed for technology businesses to flourish, or face losing them to other countries.
The Committee urged the next government to put digital skills at the top of the agenda, and establish a single digital agenda driven by one Cabinet minister.
The report found that the current government lacks coordination on digital initiatives, such as internet connectivity and ensuring that enough people are trained with cyber security skills.
"We need a government that will put the change required at the top of its priority list, be restless about progress, and above all make sure that the narrow concerns of individual departments do not undermine the focus of the government as a whole," the report said.
It was noted that the government's current "digital activity" involves four ministers, a taskforce, a committee and a unit.
The Committee cited this as "glaring evidence" that the next government must focus on a single digital agenda based on closing the UK's digital skills gap.
Baroness Morgan, chairwoman of the Digital Skills Committee, explained that the report's findings should be a wake-up call for the next government.
"Digital is everywhere, with digital skills now seen as vital life skills. It's obvious, however, that we're not learning the right skills to meet our future needs," she said.
The report reached conclusions on the UK's current level of digital skills, and called for action in several main areas.
Filling the gap immediately
The Committee wants the next government to reinstate the Post Study Work Visa, which was stopped in 2012, to allow non-European students to stay in the UK after graduating, thereby providing access to digital skills in the short term.
Antony Walker, deputy chief executive of TechUK, echoed the report's recommendations.
"TechUK believes we need a smart immigration policy to ensure that UK tech start-ups and scale-ups can access the global talent pool," he said in a statement to V3.
"We applaud the recommendation to reinstate the previous post-study work route, which TechUK believes is crucial for ensuring a strong talent pipeline."
However, the report said that attracting talent from abroad will not solve the UK's digital skills gap alone, and called for an emphasis on cultivating home-grown talent.
The Committee recommended teaching digital literacy as a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy. It welcomed the new computing curriculum, but expressed concerns that teachers lack the skills to teach coding.
The report called for more partnerships between the education sector and the technology industry to solve these problems and ensure that the needs of future employers are fulfilled by schools and universities.
"Immediate industry involvement to enhance the education and training agenda is vital to make sure the UK's workforce can adapt to the requirements of the new world," it said.
The Committee also cited a lack of female IT workers as holding the UK's technology industry back. It recommended more action to engage girls earlier and across all education levels to change the perception that technology is a male-oriented career.
Right skills for the future
Concerns over the automation of existing jobs and a need for more cyber security skills prompted the report to stress the need for the right digital skills to address future technology challenges and labour market demands.
It again highlighted the need for the technology industry to get involved in addressing digital skills and the industry's access to talent.
The Committee called for the next government to facilitate a ‘culture shift' in attitudes towards cyber security.
A lack of cyber security awareness among the general population means that people need to be trained to have a minimum ability to manage the risks posed by cyber attacks. This should start at school and extend beyond formal institutions.
The Committee cited concerns with the pace of internet coverage and the delivery of the government's superfast broadband rollout.
It urged the next government to regard internet access as a utility, and remove unacceptable ‘not-spots' in urban areas.
The report said that solving this lack of universal coverage will aid digital inclusion, which it cited as being worth £63bn annually to the UK's gross domestic product.
The need to bridge the digital skills gap is only likely to increase, particularly as the engineering and technology industry face competition over digital skills.
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