ScaleUp Institute and South Central Institute for Technology report outlines 3 critical steps for enhancing Digital Skills in UK

ScaleUp Institute and South Central Institute for Technology report outlines 3 critical steps for enhancing Digital Skills in UK including proposing compulsory examination and a standard grading system similar to Music Grades

  • The report analyses skills gaps at a local level and recommends ways to upskill the UK’s tech talent base
  • Report proposes that digital, computing and technology skills education adopt a stepped and transparent grading process – similar to the UK music grading system

London, UK; 6th April 2022: Today the ScaleUp Institute and South Central Institute for Technology have released a report that outlines three critical priorities for addressing the UK’s digital skills gaps.

Titled ‘Levelling up through digital, computing and technology skills: Growing the UK’s domestic talent base’, the report outlines the scale of need and proposes that digital, computing and technology skills education adopt a transparent grading process – similar to the UK music grading system – that would be applicable for all ages. Coupled with wider initiatives such as the National Academy, this will provide a valuable addition to the digital skills landscape.

The report is in response to the severe gap in digital skills across the UK: GCSE Results for June 2021 revealed that Computing was the fourth lowest for the number of GCSE candidates, and a further 17% fall in the number of computing teachers since 2013.

Technical skills are a major barrier to growth for many of the UK’s fastest growing companies. The ScaleUp Institute’s Annual Review revealed that 66% of scaleups cite technical skills as the key issue of today, and 7 in 10 say access to talent is a key barrier to their growth.

Working with partners, the ScaleUp Institute and the South Central Institute of Technology believe there should be a clear, simultaneous focus on three critical priorities in the short term if the opportunities available are to be seized to drive forward our scaling economy. These include:

  • Revolutionising the school curriculum to raise the status of Computer Science across all school and higher education ages by developing a clear accreditation process across all age groups and the introduction of a compulsory examination or minimum accreditation at Key Stage 4.
  • Inspire students to see the breadth of career opportunities within their reach. And raise the recognition of the value of Digital, Computing and Technology skills through a concentrated National Campaign between the public and private sectors including role models and broad communications channels and platforms.
  • Expand long-term initiatives to support lifelong learning and adult reskilling to service future economic needs and to give new opportunities for advancement to those outside formal education.

Adam Hale, Chair of ScaleUp Institute, said: “Digital, computing and technology skills are the new modern language, and knowledge of these fundamentals is almost a guarantee of a high productivity job for life. However, trying to hire more Computing teachers alone is not enough to help the skills crisis. Instead we will need to further embrace new methods and industry partnerships including scaling up what works today. We also need to make sure the teaching curriculum embeds computing to a formal examination level. Other countries have done this and it has made a difference to their domestic skills capabilities. The UK now more than ever needs to double down on our existing technical skills efforts, and be bold and joined up in our learning evolution if we are to tackle the domestic skills crisis and address the needs of the high-value jobs of today and tomorrow.

Irene Graham OBE, CEO of the ScaleUp Institute, commented: “Access to skilled talent is a key enabler of local scaleup growth and vital to the levelling up agenda. Equipping people with the right digital and technical skills is a part of this. Scaleup leaders want to see a clearer accreditation process that makes it easier for employers to understand an individual’s digital competency alongside more vocational skills courses. One way to achieve this is to develop a grading approach that seeks to mirror the current eight-grade music system, taking Grade 1 as an elementary start level and rising to Grade 8 for advanced competency. This has the added advantage of being applicable to all age groups from early school years to adult reskilling. How we also further encourage all generations to see the possibilities that acquiring digital skills affords is one the private sector with Government needs to continue to work together on – through campaigns and ever more connectivity between educators and industry. Scaleups are committed to working together with the education sector and Government to evolve initiatives to support the UK’s future technical skills  needs and the opportunities that scaling businesses provide across all sectors and all areas of the country.”

Alex Warner, Principal, Milton Keynes College, added: “Government, educators, academia and industry must work as one on the common goal of providing the skills our future and current workforce must have for today’s needs and the opportunities and roles of tomorrow. That is why this report focuses on the private and public partnership needed to deliver a quantum shift in capabilities including recognising how we join up better on our various education elements with industry. Much has occurred in the technical education sector but embracing computing examination and a formal grading system should make it easier to assess progress in competencies. This will demand forward looking planning and leverage of the private sector but should pay dividends in the long term for the UKs global competitiveness and domestic capabilities. Institutes of Technology may be part of the answer, but we can see more that needs to be done.”


Additional press release quotes:

Sherry Coutu, Serial Entrepreneur: There are 1.2m open jobs at the moment in early careers but companies are not getting the correct people with the right skill sets. To fix that requires collaboration with the people who are creating the jobs of tomorrow – a vital point that this report emphasises.” “We have got the pieces of the puzzle. It is the collaboration and coordination that is lacking. While that’s frustrating, it is also encouraging because we can instantly do something about this.”

Russ Shaw CBE, Founder, Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates: Government can play a role [in lifelong learning], they are an enabler, they are a convener, but as this report makes clear – the private sector’s role in supporting lifelong learning and adult reskilling is absolutely critical. I engage with many, many technology companies both large and small – they’re  hungry for talent. There’s 150,000 tech vacancies in the UK at the moment… Given this, what are we doing in the private sector to really drive this agenda, to encourage schools and to encourage people who are out in the workforce to go back and look at lifelong learning and retraining programmes to help them take on these jobs?”

Julie Baker, Head of Enterprise, NatWest Group: “We know the pandemic has impacted on the wellbeing and perceived lack of opportunities for the younger generation. It is vital for all of us to prioritise young people’s education and inspire young adults from all backgrounds providing the right support and technical skills, to break down perceived barriers and instil belief. We welcome the Levelling Up through Digital, Computing and Technology Skills paper recommendations and the call for collaboration – it is essential that we all work together so the next generation are more positive about their futures.”

Stephen Pegge, MD Commercial Finance, UK Finance: “There is high demand for digital and technology skills, and providing a talent pipeline is important for UK Finance members and the wider economy. The digital economy is highly interdependent and a core element of the infrastructure for productivity and growth but also for inclusion and community cohesion. The paper has important recommendations and the banking and finance sector is committed to continue to play our part in building the skills and opportunities needed for the future.” 

Dr. Thomas Hellmann, DP World Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Saïd School of Business: “The teaching of digital skills in schools, combined with on-going digital upskilling, needs to become a national priority. This is not just a question of improving productivity, it is also an issue of creating equal opportunities and enabling people to achieve their potential.”

Eleanor Shaw, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Associate Principal, University of Strathclyde: “This is a very welcome and timely paper which makes clear: a) the need for tech and computing skills if the UK is to meet its ambitions for economic and social prosperity; and b) the gaping hole that exists in the numbers of students taking computing education, especially in schools.”

Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, Chair, Scottish Food & Drink: “This paper is hugely encouraging, it has taken time to understand the Scottish situation and proposed a series of timely interventions. If these solutions are rolled out across the UK they should lead to significant changes in subjects offered at school and in further education as part of enabling access to the computer science skills we need across the whole country.”

Robert Newry, CEO & Co-Founder, Arctic Shores: “The UK faces both a digital skills crisis and opportunity. If the Government sets the priority for digital skills in education and companies collaborate with schools to deliver then we can emerge out of this crisis with an advantage.”

Clare Hutchinson, Director of The Careers & Enterprise Company: “Careers Hubs are expanding across the country. Now working with more than 3,200 schools and colleges, and through them supporting their 2.5 million students, they are leading the way on improving careers education in England. Schools and colleges that are part of a Careers Hub deliver more support to students, have stronger links with local employers, offer more work experience opportunities and develop innovative ways of linking the curriculum with the different jobs a student could go on to do.”

Alison Ettridge, CEO, Talent Intuition: “If we believe that digital sits at the centre of everything, as this report highlights, how do we work to ensure that digital sits at the centre of everything in our curriculum – in the way we learn French, the way we learn music?”