Skills core to digital strategy

Government, business and non-profits will come together to create 4m digital training opportunities, as the government puts skills at the centre of its new post-Brexit digital strategy, culture secretary Karen Bradley said today. 

karen bradleyMore than 4m free digital skills training opportunities will be created “to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business and ensure our digital economy works for everyone”, the government said today as it published its long-awaited digital strategy.

The digital strategy – which had been expected last summer but which went on hold following the Brexit vote in June – also promises an acceleration of improvements in digital infrastructure through 5G and investment in AI innovation.

With effectively a new government in place following June 23, including a new digital minister in Matt Hancock replacing Ed Vaizey, as well as Bradley as the new culture secretary, the strategy priority list has been redefined. It now covers seven key areas: connectivity, skills, startups, research, cyber safety, business online and data.

The tech talent shortage is consistently top of concerns for digital business. With fears of the end of the free movement of labour within the EU adding to those concerns, the government is looking to grow more home-grown digital talent

The strategy is low on new government spending commitments, other than the confirmation of a £1bn programme already announced in the autumn statement, to accelerate the development and uptake of next-generation digital infrastructure, including full-fibre broadband plans and 5G.

At the heart of the strategy is a ‘digital skills partnership’ bringing together government, business, charities and voluntary organisations to make sure people have the right skills for the jobs in their area and are aware of all the digital training opportunities on offer.

On skills, the strategy includes new commitments on skills from businesses:

* Lloyds – to give face-to-face digital skills training to 2.5m individuals, charities and small and medium businesses by 2020

* Barclays – to teach basic coding to 45,000 more children and assist up to 1m people with digital skills and cyber awareness, alongside an expansion of its Eagle Lab network

* Google – to help boost digital skills in seaside towns, as part of its commitment of five hours of free digital skills for everyone,

* BT – to expand its Barefoot Computing Project to enable a further 500,000 children to develop early computational thinking skills by the end of the 2017/18 academic year.

* Accenture – to partner with FutureLearn to develop a new national digital skills programme to boost learning through online collaboration, to reach as many as 100,000 people across the UK.

* HP Foundation – to bring its free HP Life online learning platform to the UK. This will improve business, IT and digital skills for disadvantaged groups in the UK.

The strategy follows the publication by the government in November of its industrial strategy.

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said: “This digital strategy sets a path to make Britain the best place to start and grow a digital business, trial a new technology, or undertake advanced research as part of the government’s plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation.

“There should be no digital divide – every individual and every business should have the skills and confidence to make the most of digital technology and have easy access to high-quality internet wherever they live, work, travel or learn.

Listen to Bradley’s interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the strategy.

The strategy also contains new measures to grow the AI sector major AI review led by Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti to identify the critical elements for AI to thrive and grow in the UK. It is backed by £17.3m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to support the development of new robotics and AI technologies in universities across the UK.

The strategy also builds on the government transformation strategy, launched earlier this month by Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer, mapping out how government will transform the relationship between the citizen and the state to improve public services.

Other measures announced in the strategy include a new competition to spark the development of new fintech products that can support those who struggle to access financial services; and a commitment to create a secretary of state-led forum for government and the tech community to work together to spark growth in the digital economy – through innovation and the adoption of digital in the wider economy.