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Microsoft exec: Pandemic could be key to improving UK digital skills gap

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Saleha Riaz
·2-min read
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Microsoft’s chief security adviser Sarah Armstrong-Smith said the tech industry needs to think about how to retrain people to learn new skills. Photo: RFEA
Microsoft’s chief security adviser Sarah Armstrong-Smith said the tech industry needs to think about how to retrain people to learn new skills. Photo: RFEA

The current digital skills gap in the UK is “only set to increase” unless the tech industry takes steps that include improving diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, said Microsoft’s (MSFT) chief security adviser Sarah Armstrong-Smith.

She said that the pandemic may be a key turning point for the D&I agenda. “If anything, the global pandemic has increased the accessibility for flexible working, and enabled people to evaluate their career options.

“Governments and companies need to consider a range of talent development and recruitment programmes, that reflect people’s lifestyle and social dynamics… programmes need to be tailored,” she added.

Speaking to charities TechVets and RFEA, Armstrong-Smith said it is important to remove “false barriers” and misconceptions, such as that tech is principally a career for men, or that you need to be deeply technical to work in cybersecurity.

She also stressed on the importance of having role models: "If people can see other people like them doing a variety of different roles, then they are more likely to pursue this as a career option."

She added that the tech industry needs to think about how to retrain people to learn new skills, and pivot from one career to another.

READ MORE: Vodafone to invest €20m in its digital skills programmes by 2025

“This is especially relevant when considering that people are re-evaluating when they may have children, take career breaks or simply have more flexibility about where and when they work,” she said.

Armstrong-Smith also said the UK government and military can work more effectively with commercial tech and cyber security companies to protect democratic process and counter the threats posed by hacking.

“In response to the recent nation-state attacks on the supply-chain, Microsoft has called for a moment of reckoning, requiring that we collectively look at the growing threats we face and commit to more effective and collaborative leadership by the government and tech sector to spearhead a strong and coordinated global cybersecurity response, including strengthening international rules and domestic laws to thwart the rise of attacks,” she said.

Last week, Google (GOOGL) urged the government to focus on digital skills and innovation to spark economic growth after the pandemic. The tech giant said a recovery that is digitally-led could help create more opportunity across the UK.

And a report from McKinsey in November showed that the UK will face a growing skills shortage over the next decade if it does not start retraining and reskilling workers for the shift to a digital-based economy which has been sped up by the pandemic.

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