UK Faces ‘Catastrophic’ Fall In Youth Seeking IT Skills

A potentially “catastrophic” digital skills shortage, caused by falling numbers of young people seeking IT careers, is endangering the UK’s economic recovery from Covid-19, a think tank has warned.

The Learning and Work Institute found that the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE had fallen by 40 percent since 2015.

The numbers taking IT A Levels, further education courses and apprenticeships are also declining, the LWI said.

Its study also found a gender gap in digital skills, with young women accounting for only 22 percent of GCSE entrants in IT-related subjects, 17 percent of A Levels, 23 percent of apprenticeship starts in ICT and 16 percent of undergraduat starts in computer science.

Image credit: Workskills UK

Advanced digital skills

“Our research shows that demand for basic digital skills is already nearly universal, and demand for more advanced digital skills will continue to increase,” said LWI chief executive Stephen Evans.

“Helping young people develop the digital skills that employers need will be vital both to driving our economic competitiveness, and to ensuring young people can succeed in the labour market of the future.”

The LWI’s research was commissioned by Workskills UK, a charity that works with employers, education and governments, with a focus on apprenticeships and work skills for young people.

It found that 60 percent of businesses believed their reliance on advanced digital skills would increase over the next five years, whilst 88 percent of young people said digital skills would be essential to their careers.

Competitiveness

Less than half of employers, at 48 percent, thought young people were leaving full-time education with sufficient advanced digital skills, while 76 percent of businesses said a lack of digital skills would harm their profitability.

Some 70 percent of young people said they expect employers to provide digital skills training on the job, but only half of the employers surveyed said they were able to provide such training.

Workskills UK chief executive Neil Bentley-Gockmann said the UK was in danger of being “left behind” as digital skills become increasingly critical.

“Other major global economies are ahead of the UK in valuing high quality digital skills to help drive their competitiveness and productivity,” he said. “We need to act now to ensure the UK is not left behind.”

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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