From education to employment

Ensuring we have the digital workforce of the future

James Lane

As part of NCFE’s spotlight report on digital skills, James Lane, Sector Manager for Digital, Creative and Design, explores how we can create the digital workforce of the future.

The digital sector is one of the fastest growing in the economy, but that rapid expansion is inextricably connected with an increasing skills gap.

There are a number of reasons for this growth, with one being the rapid pace of technological change. New technologies are emerging all the time, and businesses need to be able to adapt to these changes to stay competitive. This means they need employees with the skills to use these new technologies.

Another reason for the skills gap is the increasing complexity of digital technologies. As they become more complex, they require more specialised skills to use them effectively. This results in a growing demand for highly skilled digital professionals.

The skills gap is also being exacerbated by the fact that there’s already a shortage of qualified digital professionals in the workforce. This is due to several factors, including the availability of digital skills programmes.

If we look at cyber security, for example, a 2022 workforce study highlighted an estimated shortage of 3.43 million cyber security professionals globally, up 25% from 2021, with demand continuing to outpace the supply of talent.

The same report highlighted that the global workforce needs to grow by 65% in order to defend organisations from online threats effectively.

What needs to change?

A number of things need to happen to close the skills gap in the digital sector. One is that businesses should invest in training their employees on new technologies to ensure they have the skills they need .

We also need to see a continued focus on integration of these skills within other subjects. Having the ability to write code is no longer something that exclusively sits in the proverbial lap of a developer – we are all coders (albeit to varying degrees and applications).

Knowing how to script something could more progressively be seen as a tool of automation and can be applied to varying careers and pathways. Changing this focus will help to ensure that there is a pipeline of qualified digital professionals coming into the workforce.

Finally, government needs to create policies that support the development of the digital workforce. This could include things like providing financial incentives for businesses to train their employees on new technologies.

One such policy is the launch of the cyber security occupational specialism this year, that will form part of the Digital T Level. The qualification is aimed at 16- to 19-year-olds and equivalent to three A Levels – with a focus on developing technical and vocational skills through a mix of classroom-based learning and an industry placement.

I believe this represents an outstanding opportunity to attract a younger and more diverse workforce into the industry and create a talent pipeline. With a work placement forming a significant part of the qualification students will have the chance to experience the cyber security workplace first-hand.

Holding back innovation

The digital skills gap is having a significant impact on the sector and beyond. Businesses are struggling to find qualified employees, and this is impacting their ability to grow and innovate as well as having a negative impact on the economy as a whole.

Employers from across the digital sector are welcome to reach out to me and my team here at NCFE to work collaboratively with us. Our network brings together businesses, educational providers, and government agencies to share information and best practice on digital skills.

On a practical level, businesses can partner with us to develop custom training programmes for their employees. They can also offer tuition reimbursement programmes to encourage employees to take further education courses.

By taking these steps, we can help to ensure that the digital workforce is equipped with the skills they need to succeed. The skills gap in the digital sector is a serious problem, but it is one that can be solved. By investing in training, education, and policy, we can ensure that we have the digital workforce of the future.

By James Lane, who leads on sector representation and subject specialism support to ensure the voice of the digital sector is included in all areas of NCFE’s work. Having experience within the sector for many years before joining NCFE, James is passionate about inclusion, availability, and accessibility of these areas as well as the importance they lend to the employability and success of learners.

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