The Government must put digital jobs at the heart of its industrial strategy

May 2, 2017 · Guest blog from Romilly Dennys, Executive Director of the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec)

Screen shot 2017 05 02 at 12.20.22

Romilly Dennys, Executive Director of Coadec discusses the importance of digital jobs for the future of Britain's workforce.

Britain faces a looming crisis as robots, automation and a clampdown on immigration threatens our workforce.

Yet in Westminster, you’re more likely to overhear a debate on the future of grammar schools than the march of the machines.

As a nation, we risk falling asleep at the wheel if the Government doesn’t double down on its efforts to boost digital skills training and look forward, not back.

Just as a Conservative manifesto must commit to attracting and retaining global talent, so must it commit to subsidising proven training models that equip people with the skills for the industries of tomorrow.

The impact of digitisation has long been a topic of controversy because automation has displaced jobs, particularly in manufacturing.

Yet, the digital economy is the only sector in the EU that consistently added jobs during the economic crisis. It is estimated that Britain will need an extra 2.287 million digitally skilled workers by 2020 to satisfy the UK’s digital potential, with software developers the most sought-after, accounting for 27 per cent of vacancies.

In addition, digitisation has been proven to improve productivity by increasing participation rates and job matching. Coadec’s own data shows that if the UK achieved digital parity with Denmark (the leader for digitisation), it would lead to 350,000 more jobs, contributing up to £135 billion in GDP.

There could be up to 1.8 per cent more digital jobs in healthcare (72,000 jobs) and up to 1.3 per cent more digital jobs in both professional services (87,000 jobs) and advanced manufacturing (38,000 jobs).

At the regional level, if digital penetration levels in lagging regions caught up with the South East, the UK digital sector could create an additional 495,000 jobs by 2025. This should be at the heart of a modern industrial strategy.

One of the major obstacles to success is that new training providers who are able to upskill both young people and retrain older workers fail to attract Government funding, while outdated computer science degrees still receive funding despite computer science having the highest rate of unemployment.

By contrast, new providers have experienced rapid growth and demand, and high rates of employment. This is despite the fact that students are usually paying out of their own pocket, often upfront, without any government support.

Unlike many computer science courses, these new providers are practical, intense, and entirely focused on current labour market demands. Their success depends on their ability to get people into employment. But the single biggest barrier to uptake is cost, making the course inaccessible for the majority of British people.

Makers’ Academy is one example. If the Government subsidised the course in the same way it funds apprenticeships or computer science courses, then they estimate the number of successful applicants would increase ten-fold within a year. There are numerous other examples, including the excellent Freeformers.

A refreshed Government approach after the election can help address the looming skills crisis and also help spread opportunity and growth across the country. But time is not on our side.

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Romilly Dennys

Romilly Dennys is the Executive Director of the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec). Coadec provides bespoke government relations and policy support to a UK-wide coalition of tech startups and scale-ups. Romilly works closely with the Government, advising on digital and tech policy and representing the UK-wide voice of the sector in Whitehall, the national media and at speaking events. She has recently completed a new report for Government: A Global Britain, from local startups to international markets, that received widespread cross-Party support and national coverage for its new high-skilled visa proposal.

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