Closing the digital skills gap - insights and recommendations from NCFE

By Ben Dunn posted 10-11-2023 13:15


The digital sector is one of the most important and diverse sectors in the UK, contributing to the economy, society, and innovation. However, it also faces significant challenges such as the skills gap, the demand for new technologies and the impact of the pandemic.

Earlier this year we wrote about the impact of the digital skills gap and how STEM Learning are supporting teachers and young people to improve their computing and digital skills, particularly through the work of the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE). A recent report by NCFE, an educational charity and awarding organisation, provides some valuable insights and recommendations on this topic.

The report is part of the NCFE Sector Spotlight series that synthesises evidence on digital skills needs, including data from The Skills Imperative 2035, which you can hear more about in our recent STEM Insights podcast with Lisa Morrison Coulthard from the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER). The report goes on to propose recommendations for how we tackle the digital skills gap. There is a rapidly growing need for digital skills, with a 22% increase in digital jobs since 2017 – and almost 470,000 vacancies being posted in the last five years. However, the challenges start long before people enter the workforce. For example, recent research shows that 61% of UK primary teachers responsible for computing do not have a background in the subject.   

This, in part, is why the NCCE developed the Certificate in Primary Computing awarded by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. James Lane, Sector Manager for Digital, Creative and Design at NCFE, cites the rapidly increasing complexity of digital technologies as a challenge for the sector. He highlights an estimated 3.43m shortfall of cyber security professionals, which is why Northrop Grumman generously support STEM Learning to run the CyberCenturion competition for young people.

Tackling the digital skills gap will be challenging, but not impossible. NCFE propose three recommendations:

Upskill teachers

Supporting teachers across primary and secondary to access appropriate and impactful CPD – such as that delivered by STEM Learning and NCCE – ensures young people receive the information and skills they need to be successful in our digital world 

Support employers

Ensure employers have the knowledge and resources to support existing staff to upskill can help alleviate the immediate skills gaps. Peer-to-peer employer support is encouraged by NCFE. A great example is the free STEM Community – perfect for sharing ideas and information on how to improve digital and computing skills

Integrate digital into other subjects

Recognising that digital skills are needed in almost every sector is fundamentally important in addressing the skills gap. STEM Ambassador volunteers come from all sectors - including Computing Ambassadors - and bring subjects to life, showcasing how they use digital skills in their role and how they’re important - regardless of a young person’s career aspirations.

At STEM Learning, we welcome this report and support the recommendations. We share the NCFE’s vision, supporting all young people across the UK to have a world-leading STEM education, and believe that digital skills are an essential part of achieving this. We also recognise the challenges and opportunities that the digital sector presents, and are committed to supporting the sector and young people with the generous support of our employer partners

We believe that by working together with the digital sector, educators, and young people, we can create a more inclusive, diverse, and sustainable digital skills landscape that can benefit the UK and the world. Please read the full report by NCFE and join us in our mission to provide a world-leading STEM education for every young person in the UK.