The UK Tech Plan is very welcome, but we won’t be able to fully benefit from the digital economy and tech innovation until we plug the digital skills gap, writes David Meads
The UK’s economic future is intrinsically linked to the continued and growing success of technology. It is the primary driver of progress across our cities and regions, shaping the way we produce, connect and innovate, giving everyone access to more and better goods and services, upon which our economy fundamentally depends.
The world is experiencing some of the most seminal technological transformations we’ve ever seen, which will likely change our lives beyond recognition. So it’s crucial the UK maintains and grows its position as a tech superpower. Continued focus on research and innovation is vital to achieve this in areas like AI, which already contributes £3.7 bn to the UK economy, and quantum computing, which will improve lives from accelerating drug discovery to providing greater resilience for our transport systems.
That’s why we welcome the recommendations laid out by techUK in its newly launched UK Tech Plan, which will help to ensure the UK can build on recent positive steps to realise its digital roadmap. Introducing the first ever Whitehall department dedicated to science, innovation and technology, and a 10-year vision to position the UK as a leading quantum-enabled economy are all strong proposals.
The UK Tech Plan identifies a number of critical ways in which our sector can collaborate more closely with the next UK government to use the power of technology to enhance the daily lives of every citizen, boost economic growth, transform public services and protect the planet. The plan also provides important recommendations to ensure regulation and policy can keep pace with that of technological change, in areas such as artificial intelligence.
A strong digital economy, delivering innovation, growth, jobs, and global competitiveness will only be possible with pervasive digital skills. Yet a digital skills gap persists in the UK, leaving us in desperate need to train and re-skill millions of workers. To bridge the gap, we need to create a steady and sustainable flow of skilled people to fill millions of new jobs. Enabling a more inclusive approach to technology – including recruitment and development of talent from all corners of the UK – will create opportunity for the economy as a whole.
There are already a host of free skills programmes provided by businesses, schools and not-for-profit organisations. The key is driving awareness, consistency and enabling easy access. For example, our Skills for All initiative offers self-paced, mobile-first courses that are available for free to everyone.
Focusing on inclusion is key for growth. Economic modelling from the Centre for Economic and Business Research has revealed that a more inclusive digital society could add £168bn to the economy by 2030. The research also indicated that developing digital skills for work could result in a 7.7 per cent increase in earnings for those already employed but lacking digital skills.
Prioritising technology and creating a truly inclusive digital society is now critical for providing a much-needed injection to the UK economy and to securing our digital future. Now is the time to take digital innovation to the next level, to enable this nation to compete on a global scale.
From access to world-class public services and online experiences, to better jobs and greater earning potential, everyone should have the chance to participate and benefit from the digital economy and all the exciting opportunities it offers. We hope that current and future government leaders embrace these recommendations, for the benefit of the whole country.