Ash Gawthorp discusses why UK businesses are facing a crisis and why traditional tech training methods must be reconsidered
The digital skills gap puts the UK in crisis, and outdated, traditional tech training methods are not helping!. A recent survey from AND Digital found that 81% of UK managing directors say a lack of digital skills negatively affects their company, while more than a quarter (27%) of employees claim that they don’t have sufficient digital skills to do their job role.
The result is that UK businesses face losing missing out on as much as £240 billion in potential revenue through only focusing on ‘hard’ digital skills.
So why are there not enough technologists in the UK? When looking at routes into the technology industry, it is evident that traditional tech training methods aren’t cutting it anymore.
In 2021/22, only 53.4% of all apprenticeships were completed
Unfortunately, the current state of apprenticeships shows that their efficacy levels are diminishing. According to data from the UK Government, in 2021/22, only 53.4% of all apprenticeships were completed. Considering nearly half aren’t completed, there are clearly systematic reasons why many people don’t see their training through.
Research from the Department of Education found that when asked about their reasons for not completing, 44% cited not having enough time for training as a reason, and 41% agreed that they didn’t finish as it was badly run. Not only is this a waste of time and resources for apprentices and their employers, but it also indicates they are often ineffective.
Although apprenticeships do serve a purpose for some, within the technology industry, they simply aren’t providing a high enough level of training for students to carry through into the workforce. Despite offering further education outside of a degree, with apprenticeships often being run with poor support, management and programmes, this isn’t necessarily an alternative and accessible path into the tech sector. The answer to crises such as the digital skills gap isn’t going to be found with apprenticeships as they stand.
Barriers to entry include socioeconomic circumstances
There are several considerable barriers blocking access to digital skills in the UK, but one of the most dominant factors is socioeconomic circumstances. Simply put, access to training is limited by price.
Universities aren’t the answer
Universities, therefore, aren’t exactly the answer. They have undoubtedly become more accessible regarding educational entry levels, but with the cost of university increasing, this just isn’t an option for many. More to the point, degrees often don’t cover all relevant skills to prepare technologists for the world of work.
There are many alternative educational paths, and often potential talent simply isn’t aware of what they are missing out on. Between March 2021-2022, over 2 million tech vacancies were listed in the UK, more than any other sector. The UK is crying out for more technologists but isn’t promoting alternative methods such as Technology Training Academies to achieve this.
Diversity and inclusion: Creating opportunities for everyone
What makes a great workforce? Although skilled and hardworking employees have a big role to play, diversity is what really makes a business thrive. According to McKinsey, employees who feel included within their organisations are roughly three times more likely than others to feel excited by and committed to organization missions.
As they stand, apprenticeships just aren’t working when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusion efforts. In 2019/20, the overwhelming majority (84.9%) of all learners starting an apprenticeship were white; this was even with a 12.3% increase from 2018/19. And the number of BAME apprentices is falling; from 2018/19 to 2019/20, the number of starts by apprentices from BAME backgrounds fell by over 6,000.
Creating a diverse workforce starts with education and training. Apprenticeships currently don’t offer the type of diverse workforce that the UK technology sector need. This calls for more opportunities and entry points into the technology sector, particularly for those who are historically at a disadvantage.
Encouraging women in STEM will make a difference
Race isn’t the only area of D&I efforts that needs focus. The science and technology sector has always been a very male-heavy industry. From 2021/2022, there were only 14,110 women who started a STEM apprenticeship compared with 84,200 men. Women currently make up such a small proportion of STEM apprenticeships, and with 35% of STEM degrees achieved by women, the university isn’t necessarily a more inclusive avenue.
In 2019, only 24% of the STEM workforce were women despite this being the first time in history that the number of women hit over 1 million. Breaking down the tech sector, when it comes to all IT professionals, women are pretty few and far between. In 2019, only 16% were female employees.
Encouraging women into STEM roles has been an ongoing campaign for the last 20 or so years, and although the number of women in STEM jobs is increasing year after year, this still does not match the number of men in these positions.
How do we update traditional tech training methods?
The technology sector is facing a monumental recruitment challenge, and companies are finding it harder to both retain their staff and fill the vacancies in their team. This is a systematic problem that can only be solved by encouraging more young people to pursue tech careers and improving the skills they learn before entering the workforce.
There is a misconception that technologists must have a degree or an apprenticeship qualification to find work. This just isn’t the case anymore. With really strong and effective alternative methods, such as Technology Academies, entry into the tech sector is becoming more accessible.
The UK doesn’t have a talent shortage; it has an opportunity shortage, and traditional tech training methods are holding businesses back. Unfortunately, as a country, we are missing out on so much potential talent simply because they aren’t given the correct outlets and chances. By opening up doors to those looking to enter the sector, we will begin to see a more diverse workforce as well as highly skilled technologists.
This piece was written and provided by Ash Gawthorp, Chief Academy Officer, Ten10
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