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Gen-Z needs more digital skills says tech secretary

Digital skills are crucial for the UK's workforce and the duty to educate lies partly with big tech companies, Michelle Donelan has said.
Digital skills are crucial for the UK's workforce and the duty to educate lies partly with big tech companies, Michelle Donelan has said.

Digital skills are an imperative for the UK’s workforce and the duty to educate lies with both government and big tech companies, Michelle Donelan has said amid a push to attract more Gen-Z workers to tech jobs.

Britain’s tech secretary is driving efforts to reskill and upskill younger Brits through a series of free ‘bootcamps’ that offer training in skills such as cybersecurity, cloud computing and coding.

“Most jobs in every sector have a digital element,” Donelan told City A.M., “As technology entwines even more with our lives and labour market needs, every role will require some sort of digital skills”.

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The campaign to boost Gen-Z’s tech skills began in 2022 – with over half of participants securing jobs directly as a result in the first year – but the government is now ramping up its promotional efforts as it rapidly approaches its 2030 goal to turn the UK into a global tech ‘superpower’.

As part of this ambition, the UK government wants to retain more of its successful tech sector start ups and scale ups, which have a habit of disappearing off to the US once they reach a certain size – and a greater supply digital skills is needed to match this demand.

Scale-up companies in their ‘venture-stage’ are hungry for tech talent, with this group recruiting almost one third of all digital jobs, according to new researched published by Barclays Eagle Labs and Beauhurst.

“The key message that I have heard from industry of what is holding us back from the next level of potential is making sure that we have that skills pipeline, secondly that we are enabling companies to scale up and grow to that next level…and that we’re cutting down on the regulatory burden,” Donelan explained.

In 2022, the government formed its digital skills council when it launched the UK’s digital strategy. Council members include representatives from big tech companies including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google.

Speaking from the Google offices in King’s Cross, Donelan stressed that the role of the tech giants is important to the ambition for greater digital skills. “It does have to be a joint endeavour in terms of trying to fill the skills needs for digital,” she said.

Director of government affairs and public policy at Google, Katie O’Donovan, said: “We’re proud to be part of this important initiative, and we look forward to continuing this work with the government to equip more people with the skills needed to drive growth across the UK’s technology sector.”

However, ongoing waves of layoffs in the tech sector might deter Gen-Z. In January alone, around 25,000 employees lost roles across nearly 100 tech companies, including Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Meta, according to layoffs.fyi, an industry tracker.

Donelan addressed this issue, saying “there is an abundance of jobs available” that are “lucrative” and digital skills are important for other roles aside from in tech.

Between May 2021 and 2022, there were over 2 million vacancies for tech roles, from a total of nearly 15m vacancies across the economy as a whole, according to the latest data from Tech Nation.

The government aims to upskill 64,000 people through the bootcamps by 2024-25, with £550m in funding allocated for this purpose.