Beyond the classroom; The role we all need to play in delivering the UK’s digital skills

Scot Gardner
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If I told you tomorrow that your job was changing – that it was becoming digital – would you be ready?

If you are anything like the average person, you now spend more of your day using technology than sleeping. But how that translates from your personal to your professional life is all in flux. We’ve come to expect a constant evolution of widgets and the wonderful; from software updates on our phones, to inventions that simplify or enrich how we live our lives, how we work and how we are entertained.

Yet behind each of those inventions, tools or gadgets, lies an industry that is transforming and a skillset that is evolving. A staggering 90 per cent of all jobs are anticipated to need digital skills by 2020, and in the UK we are far from prepared.

If you’re driven to stay relevant as an individual or a business in such a fast moving technology-dominated world, digital skills aren’t just preferable – they’re a necessity. If we want to create a thriving digital economy in the UK, we need businesses and people to be equipped for a whole new world of change.

Read more: Business group warns on UK’s digital skills gap

In last week’s budget we saw recognition of the digital skills gap that overshadows both our collective productivity and economic growth. Job profiles now exist that would’ve been the stuff of fiction only a decade ago – yet it goes far beyond new roles such as data scientists or cybersecurity researchers to a shift in every individual requiring digital skills to be effective in their day-to-day. Research claims that this digital skills gap is costing our economy an estimated £63bn a year in "lost potential" – something clearly worth considering for any budget.

The future competitiveness of our nation relies on a strong digital economy. In the last year we have seen the announcement of a digital strategy, an industrial strategy underpinned by technology and a budget through which the Chancellor has pledged to fund elements of both. This is the year that we see digital technology no longer called out on its own, but permeate everything – whether in strategies to help regions, businesses or people.

At Cisco, we made a pledge of our own to support the UK in its vision to become a digital leader by helping an additional 250,000 people develop their digital skills using our Networking Academy – totalling nearly half a million since the academy launched 20 years ago. Working in partnership with the UK government, we will deliver two new initiatives that address digital skills needs at all levels of education, and with accessibility for everyone through libraries, at the heart of the community.

We believe that teachers have a hugely significant role to play in preparing students for a digital world beyond education, however at present, only 35 per cent of ICT teachers have the relevant qualifications to teach subjects such as coding and networking. Our first initiative focuses on providing support for the teaching of computing in schools. As a partnership with the Open University, it aims to help equip teachers with training and resource to deliver the national computing curriculum across all key stages.

Our second initiative will make digital skills training accessible through libraries. Available first in Manchester, residents will have access to courses at no cost, ranging from the basics of getting online, to providing an introduction to the Internet of Things and cybersecurity. Other cities are set to introduce the programme in early 2018.

We believe in creating digital opportunity for everyone. Closing the digital skills gap and digitising the UK isn’t just the responsibility of one particular budget, industry or sector and no one will solve it alone. It’s a revolution that requires collaboration from everyone - businesses, educators, academics, governments and communities. We are all collectively responsible for helping the UK be the best, digitally equipped, version of itself.

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