17 years in the digital skills space and I have never seen so much demand for labour. So, what is happening with this opportunity for the FE Sector? Can the sector show empathy and understanding to the changing needs of employers within the digital landscape?
There are currently over 3,000 vacancies on AVOL for Digital Marketing jobs. This week I was with a large Tier Two Consulting firm and they outlined their desire to move their IT Apprenticeship programme into Digital. The demand from their clients is for digital skills not IT. They showed me a pathway for 1,000 Level 3 Digital Apprentices over the next five years, a really powerful career path that took the Apprentice from Level 3 all the way through to Degree and into Junior and then Senior Consulting level.
They are looking for a good provider of these skills and they asked me to help. It is not easy to find a National Provider that I can confidently recommend to provide at this volume – a skills provider that would understand the needs of his client and his needs as a client from the provider. I sense an ever increasing gap emerging between employer needs and the ability for skills providers to keep up. Digital is so fast paced and changing. You almost have to be digital yourself to understand and lead this skills agenda.
Here I stand, at the cutting-edge of employer skills needs and I don't believe FE is seriously showing enough interest in this sector. I think many of them have a few 'evangelists', but a leadership push and commitment is lacking. Add to this, the fact that I am seeing new programmes from BIS that will disrupt and hurt FE and will also hurt Private Training Providers, it begs the questions 'have BIS lost confidence; are they finding their own way through the Digital Skills issue; and why are they not supporting the channel that is set up for skills to evolve their ability to deliver'?
With O2 reporting on a shortage of labour: "The UK will need to train three quarters of a million 'digitally skilled' workers by 2017 to keep pace with the rest of the world", it is clear that something has to be done.
Two weeks ago, I contacted five providers – a mix of FE and Private Training Providers – as I outlined a need for seven Apprentices. Only one called me back and it took them 10 days! Sadly, their lack of knowledge on the coalface of my business did not give me confidence in their ability to deliver the right curriculum.
So, what does this come down to? Is it internal apathy within FE towards this agenda? Is it a case of being far more joined up with the skills agenda in LEPs, EU Funding and County Council desire to roll our Superfast Broadband and help people drive better to achieve economic growth?
All the components are there, what is going on? I would love to hear from you.
Penny Power is founder of the Digital Youth Academy
If you would like to discuss this, please contact me on Twitter (@pennypower).