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Bridging digital skills gap is "businesses' responsibility"

Article date: Wed, 21 Oct 2015 15:14 GMT

UKFast tech education debate

Bridging the digital skills gap is the responsibility of technology businesses themselves, according to a panel of tech and education experts at a round table debate in Manchester.

The call comes after research from digital charity Go.On UK revealed that over 12 million people, and a million small businesses in the UK do not have the skills to realise their potential in the digital era.

Lawrence Jones, CEO of cloud and colocation firm UKFast, sees a solution. He believes entrepreneurial collaboration with schools is the key to inspiring young people towards a career in technology.

He said: "Go.On's research comes as no surprise. We hear of the skills gap often and we experience it first-hand. Traditional education needs to fit real-world needs and it comes down to businesses to work more closely with schools to bridge that divide. We know what the gaps are and we know what it takes to fill them. There is an increased uptake in tech careers in the UK but we need to do more across the industry to support our education system."

Tarun Kapur, chief executive of The Dean Trust, agrees that more can be done to prepare youngsters for a potential career in technology.

He said: "We need to give these young people skills that employers want and need. These children need to 'do', rather than just listen. They should be taking tech apart and learning how it works. The curriculum is very rigid at the moment and it desperately needs something that is greatly linked to project work - after all, these are skills that will be so valuable to them in the future."

Despite some positive changes in tech education, there are concerns that an engrained negative attitude toward technology is holding the progress back.

Coral Grainger, head of talent and skills at Tech North, said: "There can sometimes be an issue in the approach towards technology education and unfortunately there isn't a one size fits all solution to combat this. Schools don't always have the flexibility to bring in extra resources around the curriculum, so there's an opportunity for a sharing of practice with entrepreneurs, as ultimately, they are the ones who can help mentor these children."

Whilst entrepreneurs and businesses can bring these extra resources to the classroom, Adam Caplan, CEO of e-learning provider USP Training, believes that it is the softer skills that experienced business leaders share that have the greater impact.

He said: "Tech CEOs have the power to bridge the skills gap and help create a more positive approach to technology learning. Entrepreneurs are not frightened of getting things wrong; all great entrepreneurs make mistakes. We need to find a culture in our schools that provides the young entrepreneurs freedom to experiment, and I think there's a real opportunity for entrepreneurs to help here."

Jones added: "Ultimately, we can't keep talking about this skills gap without taking steps to solve it ourselves. Digital and technology businesses are the most affected by the shortage yet we are the most well-placed to work with schools to tackle it at the grass roots level."

The comments were made at a round table event held by cloud and colocation firm UKFast, at UKFast Campus in Manchester.

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