Digital skills shortage could boost contractor demand

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Contractors in the IT industry could see demand rise even higher in the next couple of years, as new research claims that the UK is facing a shortfall in digital skills.

A report by Development Economics for O2 says that the UK will need to find at least another 750,000 workers with digital skills by 2017, if the country is to fulfil its potential in this sector. However, it claims that this figure could be achievable if the government was to collaborate more closely with businesses to develop skills and experience within the UK workforce - even to the point of creating 96,000 jobs on top of the minimum requirement.

O2 sets out a number of recommendations to establish a closer working relationship between government and businesses on filling the digital skills gap. These primarily focus on recruiting young people into the nascent industry, by methods such as raising awareness of the kind of digital careers that might be available to young people. It also suggests that firms and politicians should work on increasing engagement in skills exchange programmes, which give young workers the benefit of industry support and better opportunities for work experience. The report even suggests that industry should become more involved in delivering practical skills education in schools.

These recommendations are mostly concerned with encouraging young workers to train or retrain to gain digital skills because O2 says that this is a perfect way to fight youth unemployment.

"Against a backdrop of encouraging economic recovery, powered in part by rapid digital growth, it’s worrying that youth unemployment remains rooted around the one million mark," writes Ronan Dunne, chief executive of Telefónica UK, in his introduction to the report.

However, the research says that only around a fifth of the jobs that need to be created in the next few years are suitable for new or retrained workers aged 25 or under. This leaves a sizeable number of vacancies that will need to be filled by more experienced staff, and it is here that IT contractors are likely to be able to reap rewards.

"Now more than ever before, digital offers the chance to drive sustained economic recovery, but this will only be realised if we become a nation of digitally confident businesses with a digitally literate workforce," says Mr Dunne.

While the report says that 47 per cent of all the opportunities to be created would be based in London and the south-east, more than half would be snapped up by other UK regions. However, southern England and the Midlands would still be the biggest winners, since just 16 per cent of created jobs would be located in the north of England and another ten per cent would be split between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Estimates suggest that as many as two million jobs are already supported by commercial activity delivered through digital technology, according to the research, from retail and entertainment through to business and professional services and even health and social care. As a result, its significance to the economy is huge - O2 says that failing to implement its recommendations could lead to somewhere between 13,000 and 21,000 unfilled vacancies in the digital sector. In turn, the report claims that this could cost the UK economy anything from £1.6 billion to £2.4 billion.


By Victoria McDonnell

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