The reality of the digital skills gap

Mind the gap

Digital, design and business education provider, General Assembly, is an institution that transforms thinkers into creators through education in technology, business and design at eight campuses across three continents.

Its aim? To create a global community of individuals empowered to pursue work they love, by offering full-time immersive programs, long-form courses, classes and workshops on the most relevant skills of the 21st century.

According to General Assembly (click here to browse its courses) the UK's digital skills gap is a real issue, and it provides the training to encourage the next generation of talent into the industry.

TechRadar Pro spoke to General Assembly's European Director, Matt Cynamon, to find out more.

TechRadar Pro: Does the digital skills gap really exist and to what extent is it affecting the tech industry?

Matt Cynamon: It's no secret that a digital skills gap exists in the UK. A study carried out on behalf of O2 towards the end of 2013 found that Britain will need 750,000 skilled digital workers by 2017 - and if we can't support that growth, it could result in costing the UK as much as £2bn each year.

However, I don't think the UK is particularly unique in this situation. The skills gap here is no bigger than in the US for example.

The way I see it, the rate at which technology is evolving is making it a lot more difficult for people to keep up-to-date with the skills they need, meaning demand for highly skilled individuals in the digital world is exceeding supply. This is happening all over the world right now, not just in London or the UK.

TRP: Do we need to teach more digital skills in schools or provide education to the current generation of job-seekers?

MC: Today's digital sector could potentially play a huge role in driving a sustained economic recovery in the UK, but for this to happen, it's important to consider both long and short term solutions. Of course we need to safe-guard the future of the industry by teaching young people digital skills, but it's also very important to invest in the current generation of job-seekers, in order to address the talent demand today.

This includes teaching the right digital skills, offering work experience schemes and encouraging companies to take on apprentices - all of which help to close the gap between academia and the real working world.

TRP: What options are available to businesses seeking skilled individuals to fill these increasing gaps?

MC: Last year it was reported that more than 15,000 new companies launched in London's Tech City alone. That's a huge number, which only accounts for a small portion of the UK's digital environment.

Companies and entrepreneurs however, are looking for employees with specific digital skills which perhaps a few years ago, didn't even exist. One option for businesses is targeted training of some kind, whether that be internally or externally. As well as employing skilled individuals, why not consider training someone just out of university, or a person that's looking to embark on a new career.

I'd also encourage businesses to think about getting involved in apprenticeship programmes. This is a great way to nurture certain individuals who might not have had the opportunities of further or higher education. It also allows the business to fine-tune the individual's skills to suit the culture and demands of that particular organisation.

TRP: Is it necessary to have a degree before landing a dream role in the tech industry and what options are available to people looking to learn new skills?

MC: There are plenty of opportunities out there for anyone looking to learn new skills and begin a career in the tech industry, whether someone has a degree or not. Self-motivation to find the best path for that particular individual is key. It might be entering an apprenticeship programme or taking a course to develop new - or modernise existing - skills.

At GA, we focus on improving the employability of our students by updating our classes and courses to reflect the 'real working life' skills sought after across the industry. Our apprenticeship scheme also pairs students with suitable work placement opportunities, to provide them with the on-job training they need to enter the employment market.

TRP: What types of digital and tech skills are employers looking for at the moment?

MC: We are seeing demand across the entire digital industry. This spans several areas, including web development, UX design, digital marketing and data science to name just a few.

TRP: What does it take to get hired in today's competitive digital environment?

MC: It's a challenging environment because often the jobs available require specific skills, but once someone's taken the right measures and shown their determination to learn, half the battle is done.

A recent study from GfK found that almost half of Tech City's businesses say a shortage of skilled workers is the biggest challenge they face as an organisation.

On top of that, nearly eight out of 10 (77%) say they could grow faster if there were more skilled people available. So, if this is the case, finding the job is not the problem, obtaining the skills to be the ideal candidate is what really matters right now.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.