Is the UK's digital sector at risk of falling behind?

Wednesday 17 December 2014

The UK's digital sector has been strengthening in recent years but growth and innovation could come to a halt if it's unable to access the skills it needs.

Writing in City A.M, Anne Richards, chief investment officer at Aberdeen Asset Management, explained that digital firms in Britain could find themselves falling behind if a solution isn't found for the skills shortage.

Indeed, while over 80 per cent of high-tech and science firms expect to need workers with higher technology skills over the next five years, Ms Richards wrote, almost 60 per cent are already facing a skills shortage.

To meet demand, an additional 750,000 digitally-skilled workers will be needed by 2017.

In November Figures from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) showed that marketing and digital vacancies increased by 20 per cent, while placements fell by six per cent.

Temporary marketing positions rose 15 per cent year-on-year, showing that businesses are relying on contractors to maintain existing service levels.

Ann Swain, chief executive of APSCo, said: "It is crystal clear that some organisations are simply failing to offer attractive enough remuneration packages to secure highly skilled marketing talent. With an already present skills shortage in the digital arena which is set to exacerbate in the coming years, businesses risk stalling their own growth if they don’t reassess their attraction packages urgently."

Contractors, limited companies and sole traders are essential so companies can flexibly draw on digital skills.

Ms Richards also claims that there must be improvements in schools, colleges, universities and workplaces to encourage digital.

This means finding alternative ways to give youngsters knowledge, she explained, while ensuring higher education courses are created to fill the needs of employers.

Ms Richards added that efforts must also be made to attract more women into science, engineering and technological studies, because if this gender imbalance isn't addressed the UK's economic potential will suffer.

She believes a cradle to the grave approach to skills and education is needed across the industry, even in sectors previously considered to be 'low tech'.

By focusing on these things, the UK digital industry will be better placed to grow in the future. However, in order to break down the barriers, there needs to be a concerted effort not to be complacent. While the sector is thriving currently, things can change and globally digital is becoming a much more competitive arena.

By Victoria McDonnell

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