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Digital and IT skills: Whole-career approach needed

07 June 2021

EARLIER THIS year, research from UK think Tank, the Learning & Work Institute revealed that the number of students taking IT subjects at GCSE has dropped by a 40% since 2015. Against a background where the industrial sector skills-shortage has been long acknowledged, this is particularly vexing. Within industry, there are many organisations, companies and individuals making a huge effort to encourage young people into STEM careers - but the message just doesn’t seem to be filtering down to secondary school level.

Digital skills were already proving vital to securing economic growth pre-pandemic; and there is absolutely no doubt that digital skills need to be front and centre of the UK’s economic recovery post-pandemic. However, according to the Learning & Work Institute’s research, 70% of young people expect employers to invest in teaching them digital skills on the job, but only half the employers surveyed for the study indicated that they are able to provide appropriate training.

While digital skills are important across the board, they are particularly vital for industry. Addressing this, SME manufacturers, supported by Made Smarter in their drive to digitalise, are upskilling over 1800 workers. The Made Smarter Adoption programme in the North West has worked with more than 1200 businesses since 2019, supporting them to introduce digital tools and technologies to help boost productivity and growth, and more recently to navigate the impact of COVID-19.
Among these, 160 businesses have secured matched funding to develop projects using technologies that enable them to integrate systems, capture and analyse data, and even create simulations of their plants and processes. Others are using 3D-printing, automation, and robotics to solve business challenges and meet increased demand.

And it’s not just the technology side of digitalisation that those engaging with the Made Smarter programme are looking at. SME leaders are also navigating the cultural challenges of digitalisation: good digital leadership; bringing the team along on the journey; effective communication of the benefits of change; capturing the technical skills and know-how of older workers before they leave the industry, attracting new digital talent into the organisation, and plugging skills gaps.

The skills required for the UK to be competitive in the face of ever-growing digitalisation need to be developed both from the ground up, through primary, secondary and further education, and through continuous training and development in the workplace. In much the same way as equipment should be looked at from a whole-life point of view, so should skills be views from a whole-career perspective, with an even more concerted effort being made to engage people of all ages, across all sectors.

AirUser Live

While the past year has seen us all embrace digital communication, there's nothing quite like live face-to-face events. Taking place at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry, on 1 December AirUser Live will be the 2021's only live UK event for the compressed air market, offering visitors a great opportunity to network and reconnect with the sector's major players and industry bodies.

As well as a comprehensive seminar programme including keynote sessions from the British Compressed Air Society and the British Compressed Gases Association, the event will feature a tabletop exhibition, giving visitors the opportunity to discover all the latest products and services under one roof.

If you represent an industry body or association and are interested in presenting at AirUser Live please email cstonestreet@westernbusiness.publishing