Fred Flack, Head of Talent Academy at CloudStratex, is actively working to turn young job seekers into IT professionals, as well as upskill existing specialists. Here, he explores how government and businesses can better promote the digital skills agenda
Digital skills are required in at least 82% of online advertised job openings across the UK, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). Therefore, bridging the digital skills gap has become a business-critical issue. Given the ever-increasing rate of innovation, companies will quickly get left behind if they are unable to leverage next-generation technologies effectively and compete on an equal footing with their rivals based in the UK and abroad. If UK businesses are to remain competitive, they clearly need highly-skilled, technically literate individuals. After all, technology underpins key sectors such as finance and banking. health, retail, and manufacturing, which bolster the UK economy and ensure our global success. It is also something we are very good at, given we have twice as many “unicorns” – billion-dollar value digital companies – as Germany and three times as many as France.
Do you believe the government is doing enough to tackle the crisis?
The government has taken measures to address the need for digital reskilling and upskilling, such as providing entitlement funding for adults with low digital skills who are taking Ofqual approved essential digital skills qualifications, as well the creation of a three billion pound National Skills Fund. Most exciting of all is that it is planning to establish 20 Institutes of Technology across England- unique collaborations between further education colleges, universities, and employers –– offering higher technical education and training in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, to give people the skills they need for key sectors such as digital, construction, advanced manufacturing and engineering.
It is important to remember that the skills crisis is a global phenomenon, with all nations struggling to keep up with the rate of change. That being said the UK has now entered the deepest recession ever seen according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and we still have to wait to fully understand the implications of Brexit, especially if a deal cannot be reached. Therefore it is vital that business and government work together if we are to bounce back from our present economic slump and secure the first green shoots of recovery.
How can UK business support the reskilling and upskilling of employees and young people?
Whether you are a start-up, SME or blue-chip company, there is an important role for you to play in increasing the UK’s digital skills base. In the first instance, businesses need to understand how they utilise digital now and in the future. Therefore, it is important that they set out a digital strategy in order to understand how technology can improve business performance, whether that means creating new products or reimagining current processes. Once this is done, digital skills need to be put front and centre, by making them a company-wide initiative. That means involving employees in the transformation process by asking for their feedback regarding the training and equipment they need to do their job. Too often companies take a top-down approach which does not consider the needs of employees, so any changes are likely to fail. If need be businesses should work with other businesses who can support them in transforming their internal skills base with training programmes and advice. This should never be a long-term thing. The objective is to build up internal capacity, not to become dependent on outside consultants.
With regard to young people, at the Talent Academy, one of our sayings is that “youth is the present, not just the future”. By this, we mean that society needs to invest in young people immediately, for the good of all. Unemployment during a downturn can be both physically and mentally damaging. especially so for young people looking to find work. They are most at risk given their significant lower earnings and employment experience. Therefore businesses can paly a part in encouraging and helping younger people by developing partnerships with education providers and taking on digital apprenticeships where possible.
What is the Talent Academy and why are business initiatives like this important?
The Talent Academy is a training pathways programme, built to create the next generation of technologists and leaders. It is a way for relatively inexperienced talent to quickly get involved at the coalface of leading technology deliveries and strategies. It serves as an important reminder that the UK’s young people need investment, support, and training, if they are going to have the best chance to become successful professionals. The Talent Academy offers funded technical and business professional qualifications and certifications which gives our learners or “Gen-L’s” the digital skills they need to succeed, whatever stage they are at in their careers. It is important to note that unlike other IT training providers, the Talent Academy does not operate “exit-fee” contracts, which unfairly “locks” graduates into a job for a set period and requires they repay some or all of their training costs. If a Gen-L or graduate wants to leave their programme, they are free to do so at any time without any costs incurred to them.
How did the idea come about?
We operate under the umbrella of CloudStratex a digital transformation company that has built its reputation by transforming how blue-chip businesses leverage next-generation technologies. The successful companies of the future are going to be the ones staffed with IT literate people who can figure quick, manage quick, leverage quick and get moving. Currently, there is a huge shortage of tech talent and many companies are reliant on external providers to run their technology services and advise them on what is good for their business. Given the level of technical and digital knowledge and experience within CloudStratex, we felt we could support our clients by creating our very own talent pool that could plug any gaps in their skill base and enable them to become digitally autonomous. It is a win-win for everyone. Businesses have the skills they need to do business and their demand continues to fuel digital training and development at no cost to our Gen-L’s. It is just one great example of how businesses can find creative ways to support careers and the economy in especially trying times.