My first ambition was to be an astronaut.

The idea consumed me – climbing trees, creating miniature spaceships, and staying up late to fly my imaginary ship under the stars.

With communications headsets shaped from coat hangers, tinfoil space blasters and a tea towel cape, I appeared before my family as a galaxy guardian: prepped to radio imaginary mission control in the event of any foil blaster malfunction.

This passion for exploration of new things always sat with me, even as school and university progressed more practical ambitions and early professional training in PR. Though I may never sit in a rocket-propelled spaceship, ‘digital’ speaks to my inner astronaut and my ongoing digital education is central to my life.

However, the nation seems to have taken a wrong turn with digital.

The current obstacles:

Last year’s House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’s report highlighted the UK’s digital skills shortage. Rather than the UK’s workforce and young people pinning figurative towel capes to themselves and ascending into the stratosphere, we lag behind: 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills.

The report cites many causes: 22% of school IT equipment is ineffective, only 35% ICT teachers hold a relevant qualification, and only 70% computer science teachers required being recruited compared to national targets.

Skills shortages affect 93% of tech companies, who are unable to fully service commercial operations. National Centre research shows much more can be done to improve on the above report’s analysis that 13% computer science graduates are unemployed six months after graduation, and this digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63bn a year in lost GDP.

I wouldn’t know how to explain this to my younger self if I could speak to him now.

But there are silver linings – the Science and Technology Committee’s report is solutions-focussed: national objectives will focus on a vocational training (similar to how I learned the digital side of my job) and encouraging universities to provide ‘code conversion’ courses, with digital fully entrenched in all apprenticeships.

What we’re doing about it:

The Government is being encouraged to work with the Tech Partnership to ensure a regular forum for employers to raise concerns about skills, but this is the tip of the national iceberg.

The lack of female uptake of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects was cited as a cause for the skills shortage. In addition to encouraging more young women into STEM subjects through our Talent 2030 programme we are working to facilitate collaboration on Digital health initiatives.

Digital healthcare and healthy living is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world and the UK must create the right conditions to ensure its health and digital businesses are at the forefront of this revolution. The Digital Healthcare and Healthy Living Task Force is working with NHS England, UK Biocentre, consumer and B2B tech companies such as Intel, and Google.

We’re harnessing the benefits of digital to meet these aims by developing platforms like konfer, to help universities and businesses collaborate and BrandU (more substantial details to follow) to help students find work experience opportunities and placements. We have also developed the engineering>workwith to help engineering businesses to connect with universities.

Will we get there?

Perhaps our childhood fantasies have vexed our perspective of just what ‘digital’ is and interrupted our progress towards a fully realised digital transformation.

So often, an over-complicated view of digital may be obstructing the work needed for digital industries to fully thrive in modern Britain. But it’s great to see so many initiatives trying to get us there, towel cape and foil blaster in hand, as we set our sights to innovations that may impress our younger selves, very much indeed.

By James Lenney,
National Centre Digital Communications Officer

Please read about talent 2030 here and the early phases of our Digital Healthcare and Healthy Living Task Force and research reports here….