UK gov pledges post-pandemic digital skills boost

The legislative programme, which already includes an intensive coding ‘bootcamp’, was welcomed by the BCS

The UK government has unveiled a new policy and funding programme which aims to ensure that all adults have equal opportunities to learn new skills such as coding.

Announced as part of the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday, the legislation is aimed at supporting the UK’s post-pandemic recovery by providing people with the chance to upskill and retrain regardless of their age. This includes facilitating access to student loans, providing employers with a statutory role in planning publicly-funded training programmes, as well as granting the Secretary of State for Education increased influence in monitoring whether colleges meet local needs.

The new policies are part of the recently unveiled ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’, which last month launched 400 free qualifications ranging from engineering and digital skills to social care.

Available to any adult who has not already achieved a qualification at Level 3, the digital qualifications offer digital skills boot camps in computer science, software deployment, systems infrastructure, cyber security, and coding. The courses have already managed to train 3,000 people, with another 14,000 signed up to attend later this year.

According to the government, the ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ will allow adults to “change careers, upskill regularly, and stay up to date with changing knowledge and technologies”.

BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT described it as “a significant step in the right direction to address the digital skills gap”.

BCS head of Apprenticeships, Annette Allmark, said that the government’s plans “will allow more people to access the training in digital skills they need for their careers – and to develop the skills the economy needs to flourish and ‘build back better’ after the pandemic”.

“Hopefully, this funding will also increase the diversity of people learning digital skills now and in the future. It’s important that the government continues to build on the many excellent training opportunities already available, such as the wide range of popular digital apprenticeships,” she added.

Allmark also stated that “there’s never been such a significant demand for digital skills – not just for an increasing number of digital occupations, but across all occupations as a result of businesses having to digitally transform during COVID”.

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According to a recent study, the majority of surveyed HR decision-makers in the UK said they believed reliance on advanced digital skills was going to increase over the next five years. Despite this, participation in A-Level and further education IT courses has declined, with the number of students taking IT subjects at GCSE level falling by 40% since 2015.

However, there is always time to retrain: the new legislative measures aim to assist adults in gaining the competencies required for better-paid employment, which often require candidates to prove that they have the necessary skills. These jobs were found to be notoriously understaffed, with employers unable to fill a quarter of their vacancies due to a lack of employees with the right skills even prior to the pandemic, according to the government.

Allmark said that the areas dealing with “significant shortages of skilled people” are “vital sectors” including artificial intelligence, cyber security, and software development

“In addition, the digital transformation in the NHS has accelerated during the pandemic with technology being widely used across the service,” she added.

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