Exclusive: How Do We Address The Digital Skills Shortage?

By 2017 Britain will need 785,000 digitally-skilled workers - How can we bridge the digital skills gap?

Regardless of whether or not you actually work in the digital sector, I’m sure by now you’ll have heard all about the current digital skills shortage – and how there’s simply a lack of qualified candidates for the number of jobs that are available.

The problem’s only set to get worse. According to a 2013 report by O2, Britain will need 785,000 digitally-skilled workers by 2017 – and if the country can’t support that growth, it could cost the economy up to £2 billion a year.

So, what’s the problem? Well, through working for the niche digital jobs board Bubble Jobs, I speak to a lot of students and graduates and it seems that a lot of them still think the word ‘digital’ ultimately means ‘technical’. At every career fair I visit, I speak to students who say they don’t feel that they’re ‘technical enough’ to work in the sector – and are shocked when I tell them that you don’t necessarily need to be a master coder to work in digital – there are lots of other less technical jobs available too.  

But it’s not their fault. With every report that comes out on the digital skills shortage, the focus is always placed on ICT roles and the lack of Computer Science graduates – and even the newly introduced ICT curriculum that the government introduced as a way of dealing with the shortage places a huge focus on coding and web development.

The problem, as I mentioned before, is that web development only represents a small proportion of the industry – and there are thousands of other jobs available in the digital sector that are ideal for candidates who have more creative or softer skills such as Digital Marketing, Content, Web Design, eCommerce and even Analytics.

In terms of a solution, there’s no magical cure but I think there are a few things we can do to try and address the issue. The first thing to do is make the industry and the roles within it much more transparent. Aside from those already working in the sector, the role of someone like a PPC Manager or Web Analytics Manager and what they do day-to-day is completely foreign to a lot of people – which is why the majority of students, graduates and job seekers in general would never even consider these kinds of roles.

In an attempt to break down these barriers, I’m currently building a series of ‘A Day In The Life Of’ style articles for our Digital Career Portal. These articles document a typical 9-5 day for professionals already working in the digital industry and are designed to give an insight into what working in the digital sector is really like. With a little luck, these articles might just inspire those who are tempted by a digital career to hit that ‘apply’ button and get their foot in the door. (I’m still looking for people to contribute to these, so if you fancy it, feel free to get in touch!).  

The next thing we can do is educate those who we’re trusting to educate our students and graduates. Over the last couple of years, I’ve spoken to lots of HE career advisors who had some idea of what the digital sector was – but didn’t know enough to be able to confidently advise students and graduates about which area of the digital sector might be the best for them. This is obviously concerning because if these key figures don’t know what the digital industry is, there’s no way they can encourage those with the skills and education employers are actively looking for to enter it.

Again, here at Bubble Jobs we’re trying to address this issue. In the last 12 months we’ve held four digital career training events with more than 150 HE career advisors from across the UK – and talked them through what jobs are available in the digital sector and which degrees are better suited to which jobs. That said; we’re just one company doing this alongside our day jobs of running a digital jobs board – and we know that in order to ultimately make a difference, other organisations need to step up to the plate and make a commitment to raising awareness of digital careers at a university level and beyond… which leads me nicely onto my last point…

The final way I think we can address the digital skills gap is to introduce the idea of digital jobs and careers at a younger age. As I mentioned before, the government might have introduced the new ‘digitally-focused’ ICT curriculum – but this has definite flaws. Rather than focusing purely on the technical side of things (which the majority of primary school teachers have had little to no training on by the way!), the curriculum should also incorporate some of the softer skills that are needed in the digital sector. For example, a lot of jobs call for familiarity with the Adobe Creative Suite or with common CMS platforms like WordPress.

By diversifying the curriculum in this way, primary school children would get a better understanding of how varied the digital sector is, rather than being under the illusion that the sector isn’t the right fit for them because they’re struggling with the technical modules they’re being taught as part of the new curriculum.

As a result, these children might then go on to choose more relevant GCSEs, A-Levels or even degrees as a result – or might even be tempted to choose to study at some of the new digitally-focused schools and colleges (such as the Manchester Creative Studio) who are actively focused on providing students with the skills and experiences employers in the digital sector are looking for.

As I said earlier, when it comes to the digital skills shortage, there’s no magic solution in addressing the issue – but with a bit of collaboration and commitment from those already working in the digital sector and the government, I think we can definitely give it a good go.

Do you agree or have any other suggestions? Leave a comment below. 

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