Digital Britain: Why We Must Invest In Digital Skills If We Truly Want To Be A Tech Superpower.

The rapid growth of digital technologies is revolutionising the way that we live and work. These days most jobs have a digital element and we are now beginning to see new and exciting career opportunities across the digital economy.

As Chair of the Crypto and Digital Assets All Party Parliamentary Group for the past two years I have observed in this short space of time the rapid growth of new emerging technologies like crypto, digital assets, blockchain, web 3 and AI and the vast career opportunities this presents.

Employers are increasingly looking to hire people with digital skills to support the growth of these new and emerging technologies. However, employers are saying that they are struggling to find people with the digital skills that they need.

Last year a study by tech giant Microsoft revealed 54% of business leaders are concerned that their workforce lacks the skills to make the most of the growth in AI. The Federation of Small Businesses has also said that one third of British digital SMEs believe that a lack of technically skilled candidates is a major barrier to growth.

Last year the Prime Minister set out a bold new vision for the UK to establish the UK as a science and tech ‘superpower’, seeking to harness the massive growth potential of digital technologies. If we are to truly realise this vision we must ensure that we are equipping people with the skills that they need in order to succeed in a Digital Britain.

The UK’s digital skills gap is now estimated to be costing the UK economy £63 billion per year. The Government has said that it recognises that boosting digital skills will be a key factor in maintaining and building the UK’s position as a digital leader and we have made good progress in getting this vital investment underway.

The government has pledged more than £1 billion in funding to train millions in high-tech skills and introduced free digital skills ‘bootcamps’ that can offer training in skills such as cybersecurity, cloud computing and coding.

The Government also launched the Digital Skills Council back in 2022 alongside its digital strategy which seeks to harness the power of digital and tech leaders like Microsoft, Google and Amazon to help us meet this challenge.

Whilst the UK recognises the need to improve our digital skills pipeline and has made good progress it is clear that more must be done.

According to research from the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) which measures economies by a World Digital Competitiveness Ranking the UK is lagging behind our international counterparts coming 20th out of 64 economies.

So if we are to realise our vision of becoming a science and technology superpower we must ensure that we are giving people the necessary digital skills to succeed in their careers – from investing in delivering digital skills in early years and higher education, right through workplace training.

We should also be seeking to empower and encourage people from all to consider careers in digital industries where they may have not thought able to before. According to the Institute of Coding, led by the University of Bath, only half of the population has confidence in their digital skills. It also revealed that just 14% of people were able to name a female tech leader.

Improving diversity across our tech and digital economy must also be a key part of this endeavour and in addition to boosting digital skills I would like to see much more being done to empower women and young girls to consider a career in tech, something which is very close to my heart.

As we have seen already with the Government’s Digital Skills Council, industry and business can be a key partner in helping us to boost digital skills.

I recently visited a company called RoboThink, who are delivering STEM, coding, robotics, and engineering programs in the UK and across 20 countries around the world to help develop core STEM skills that students apply to school subjects and their future careers. RoboThink’s CEO told me that early exposure to STEM education is critically important to prepare children for a fast-changing, digital world and that integrating coding and digital skills education into the curriculum at an early age is crucial.

Partnerships between educational institutions, government and the private sector in new and innovative ways like this one could help reduce the digital skills gap and ensure that our workforce is equipped to thrive in the digital age and indeed in a Digital Britain.

Dr Lisa Cameron MP

Dr Lisa Cameron MP is a Conservative MP and is Chair of the Crypto and Digital Assets APPG