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UKFast: How we’re fixing Britain’s skills gap alongside the world’s biggest tech firms

11 November 2021 by Katie Lander

By Arlene Bulfin, Director of People Development at UKFast

How do you upskill and retrain an entire generation of workers to fill an estimated three million new tech jobs by 2025?

That’s the dilemma our country now faces, with digital innovation creating new jobs every day.  

But here’s the rub: last year, unemployment across the UK rose to above 5%, its highest level for more than four years. So, if jobs in tech are growing every day, yet people still can’t find work – it means we have a problem, a really big problem: one that government policies alone, no matter how well meaning, will not solve.

That’s why UKFast is proud to stand alongside some of the world’s biggest tech companies as we get to work closing Britain’s digital skills gap.

Fast forward for digital jobs

At UKFast, we’re passionate about making sure today’s young people and those made redundant have the qualifications to fill new tech roles – and the skills to thrive within them. 

It’s for this precise reason that the Fast Forward for Digital Jobs taskforce was set up – and UKFast is delighted to be part of the TechUK initiative. Along with companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, and many others, UKFast is calling on the government to prioritise upskilling and retraining our young people in tech. We want to ensure more people from more diverse backgrounds have a role to play in the UK’s growing tech sector. 

As part of this drive, UKFast and the taskforce have unveiled a new report: Fast Forward for Digital Jobs, which details seven key objectives that will arm the next generation of workers with the skills they need to thrive.

Our mission to upskill the next generation of tech workers

For UKFast, this taskforce is personal – because so many of our employees started their careers as apprentices within the company. In recent years, over 100 of our talented apprentices have moved into senior tech roles – and next year we’re going to increase the number on our programme by some 400%. Everywhere we look, we’re surrounded by success stories of talented, former students, who now play a key role in our company. 

Every day, our apprentices prove just how much they have to offer – to our company and our customers. Just because somebody didn’t embark on a software engineering degree at a top university at aged eighteen, doesn’t mean they aren’t a valuable asset to the tech industry. As I mentioned in a recent webinar, it’s so exciting to see talent absolutely everywhere. But the challenge now, and one the whole country faces, is how do we intercept more of these people who don’t know how valuable they could be to the industry, and nudge them into the new jobs that desperately need filling. 

For us at UKFast, we do this everyday, by recruiting apprentices and building strong community links with local schools. But to amplify it, more needs to be done. 

Forging a path to a highly skilled future

To be clear: innovation and digital change are creating more jobs than they threaten. But there’s a serious challenge in making sure the UK workforce can rise to the potential that this shift creates. Now, it’s incumbent on society, the government and companies like UKFast to find new and innovative ways of closing this skills gap. 

As part of that drive, the taskforce’s Fast Forward for Digital Jobs unveils seven key steps that are crucial to achieving this:

  1. Showcase the life changing opportunities of digital skills and jobs – we need to help more young people understand that a digital career is for them 
  2. Champion bite-sized flexible learning – it should be easier for learners to upskill in smaller chunks, with individual modules and short-term training sessions. 
  3. Help learners meet the cost of retraining – cost shouldn’t be a barrier to a good career – whether that’s a 16 year-old just getting started or a 56-year old looking to retrain.  
  4. Help SMEs to invest in digital reskilling – SMEs need the support to seek out and find the best tech talent – wherever they might be.
  5. Enable more SMEs to benefit from the Apprenticeship Levy – the apprenticeship level has a key role to play in encouraging companies to invest in the right skills. 
  6. Ensure education providers focus on job readiness – educators and employers need to work harder together to ensure the next generation are ready.
  7. Develop an online ‘Digital Skills Toolkit 2.0’ to help people navigate to digital skills and careers – a skills toolkit can help people understand what pathways will lead to a stable and skilled career in tech. 

                            The seven recommendations have a vital role to play in creating a bold path forward for our next generation. I am personally committed to doing what it takes to plug this skills gap – both now and long into the future. If you want to find out more about our mission, check out the report today.