Wednesday 27 November 2019 6:00 am

Time is ticking on the UK digital skills gap

This year, the internet turns 50. In 1969, the first message sent on what was known as the Arpanet marked the birth of a technology that would become the “network of networks” that we have all come to rely on so heavily.

Today 4bn people around the world are connected to the internet.
In 2022 alone, we’ll see more traffic cross the internet than in its entire 50-year history.

New industries will be invented, with business models not yet imagined, and new jobs created.

But for the UK to truly see the benefit of this digital economy, the opportunity, both now and in the future, has to be felt by everyone. And for that to be a reality, there are three things that we have to address as a nation and a technology industry:

Everyone should have access to the internet

Geographically or socio-economically, whether it’s connecting the 20 per cent of people who live in rural areas across the UK, or creating a more level playing field with high-speed connectivity across the nation, we all must have access.

Take for example 5G Ruralfirst. Led by Cisco, the part-government funded consortium project improved the productivity of salmon farming in Orkney (which happens to be the UK’s biggest food export), and created new venue streams for local tourism and connectivity for people in remote communities.

The project demonstrated business models to help justify investment in rural connectivity. Now we have to apply the learnings.

Accessible digital skills

The importance of IT proficiency is almost as critical as basic literacy for most employers. It was recently reported that there has been a drop of more than 40,000 in pupils sitting for GCSEs in computing or ICT.

We must collectively do more to close this digital skills gap if we want the next 50 years to be as progressive as the last.

While teachers across the nation strive to deliver a curriculum that prepares students for the world of work, they cannot do it alone.

As technology leaders we must take responsibility for equipping everyone with the skills they need to make the most of the internet’s promise.

Securing our future

The internet and what we do with it will continue to evolve. As more devices are connected to networks around the world, security is becoming ever more important, but in parallel, all the more complicated.

Already today, we see and stop 20bn threats a day. That’s six times as many threats as Google sees searches.

Imagine how that landscape changes when in the next 50 years we connect everything from clothes to autonomous vehicles. Not only does the number of points a criminal can target increase, but the potential implications of a hack become more than the emptying of your bank account.

That risk does not outweigh the reward, but it does emphasise why we must take cybersecurity seriously and address the major issues in awareness and education.

The internet has helped shape the world we live in today. No one knows exactly what’s to come, and that’s exciting, but we do know that the next 50 years will be defined by the actions that we take now.

We have the opportunity to ensure that this continues to be a
century of unimaginable progress.

Chintan Patel is chief technologist at Cisco UK and Ireland