UK digital skills shortage risks Covid recovery as young people shun IT courses

Exclusive: Employers fear growing mismatch between rising demand for skills and falling supply of trained recruits

Britain’s economic recovery from Covid-19 is at threat from a looming digital skills crisis caused by a sharp fall in the number of young people taking IT courses, a report has said.

A study by the Learning and Work Institute found less than half of UK employers believed new entrants to the workforce were arriving with the necessary advanced digital skillset.

The mismatch between the rising demand for digital skills and the supply of sufficiently trained recruits was already costing the economy billions of pounds and the potentially “catastrophic” gap would widen over time without urgent action.

The LWI – an independent policy, research and development organisation – said the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE had fallen by 40% since 2015, and the numbers taking A Levels, further education courses and apprenticeships were also declining.

The report said there was also a gender gap in digital skills, with young women accounting for just 22% of GCSE entrants in IT subjects, 17% of A Level entrants, 23% of apprenticeship starts in ICT, and 16% of undergraduate starts in computer science.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the LWI, said: “Our research shows that demand for basic digital skills is already nearly universal, and demand for more advanced digital skills will continue to increase. Helping young people develop the digital skills that employers need will be vital both to driving our economic competitiveness, and to ensuring young people can succeed in the labour market of the future.”

The research found 60% of businesses believed their reliance on advanced digital skills was set to increase over the next five years whilst 88% of young people realised digital skills would be essential for their careers.

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Only 48% of employers thought young people were leaving full-time education with sufficient advanced digital skills and 76% of businesses believed a lack of digital skills would hit their profitability.

The report was commissioned by Workskills UK, a charity which works with employers, education and governments, focussing on apprenticeships and skills for getting young people into work.

Neil Bentley-Gockmann, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Other major global economies are ahead of the UK in valuing high quality digital skills to help drive their competitiveness and productivity, we need to act now to ensure the UK is not left behind.”

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Larry Elliott

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