Microsoft & Google face House of Lords grilling over UK tech skill shortages

Houses of parliament

Google and Microsoft representatives will be among the IT experts quizzed tomorrow by the House of Lord's newly-created Digital Skills Committee, which is in the throes of investigating the state of the UK's digital skills and competitiveness.

The House of Lords Committee on Digital Skills was given the go ahead on Monday 9 June, and its members were formally appointed on 12 June.

Its job is to examine the UK's tech sector and submit a report on its competitiveness, as well as the range and quality of digital skills it has to offer.

The deadline for submitting written evidence to be included in the report will be 5 September 2014, but tomorrow will see two evidence-giving sessions take place at the House of Lords, where witnesses will be called to share their thoughts on a wide range of technology issues.

These include the implications of big data and other technology advances for the UK economy, how to go about readying people to work in a "knowledge-driven economy", and what needs to be done to reduce inequality within the UK workforce.

The first of these two sessions will include insights from representatives from the University of Oxford, the government-backed Technology Strategy Board, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

The second will see Hugh Milward, director of corporate affairs at Microsoft, an unspecified representative of Google, and Chris Mairs CBE, chair of the UK Forum for Computing Education.

"The investigation will explore how the UK can be prepared to compete in a global digital economy, examining issues such as whether we're developing a workforce that is appropriately skilled for the future in jobs that may not yet exist, and how we are encouraging people of all ages to choose careers which will benefit the future digital era," a Committee statement, released at the time of the Committee's launch states..

Baroness Sally Morgan of Huyton is responsible for overseeing the committee's activities, and currently holds a non-executive directorship with Carphone Warehouse.

She is being assisted by Lord Aberdare, a director of apprenticeships provide Waltz Learning to Work, and The Good Schools Guide editor, Lord Lucas, among others.

Morgan said the overahul report the Committee produces will seek to ascertain whether or not the UK workforce has the skills needed to keep pace with the level of tech innovation demonstrated by other countries.

"This will involve looking at the range of skills we are teaching our students and graduates, comparing whether what we teach them matches the rapidly growing and anticipated number of ICT vacancies, and looking at making sure we have the infrastructure to support the digital environment of the future," she said.

"I believe it's going to be crucial for the UK to create a workforce that is skilled enough to stay ahead globally, particularly in terms of digital skills. I hope that this inquiry will shine a light on whether or not the UK sits at the top of the class or whether it must try harder.

"We would encourage anyone with relevant expertise or experience in these issues to submit evidence," she added.

Finding ways to address the IT skills gap and bolster the UK's competitive standing in the tech sector have been a key concern for the Government in recent years.

This has resulted in numerous initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women working in IT, as well as boosting the number of specialist IT staff with experience in big data and cyber security, for example.

The Government has also gone to great lengths to re-position the GCSE computing and ICT syllabus to make the areas it covers more relevant to those wanting to pursue a career in IT later down the line.

This story was originally published on 12 June 2014, but has since been updated with additional information about what the Committee hopes to achieve on 11 July, and once again on 21 July with details about Google and Microsoft being questioned by the committee.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.