A look at some of the UK's best digital skills initiatives

We take a look at the programmes attempting to bridge the UK's growing skills gap

As organisations move to make better use of the masses of data they collect, and take advantage of key tech like artificial intelligence, training a workforce that's savvy in digital skills has never been more essential for the UK economy. This is the case across all sectors of business, whether that's private or public.

But report after report says we are in danger of not having the skills needed to take full advantage of the increasing use of digital tech across all aspects of life.

In July the PWC Economic Outlook report said that around 20% of UK jobs would be displaced by AI and related technologies by 2037, and about the same percentage of jobs would be created in that timeframe. The almost even loss/gain is good news for the UK jobs market, but a growth in the number of highly specialised roles puts incredible strain on the talent pipeline.

According to Accenture, 51% of worker time in the UK is subject to potential augmentation as intelligent technologies enhance people's capabilities. It says outdated education and workplace training puts at risk 141.5bn of UK growth that 'intelligent technologies' could bring.

These two reports are the tip of an iceberg. There are plenty of others that point to the 'digital skills gap' in one way or another. The UK Government is, of course, aware of the issue, and recognises it has a role to play in building the digital skills we will need in the future. It has its own initiatives, all part of a mix variously sponsored by government, business and charitable funders.

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Through a mix of government and private initiatives, the UK is starting to address its talent shortage. These programmes operate at many levels, with some aimed at skills development for those who are in work, while others target fostering and supporting tech interests within education.

UK Government Digital Skills Partnership

The Digital Skills Partnership (DSP) brings together public, private and charity sector organisations to help increase the digital capability of individuals and organisations in England. It is a wide-ranging programme, with a focus on addressing digital inclusion and the general digital skills workers now need, right up to highly advanced skills for specialist roles. It's a fairly new initiative, but there are pilot projects in Lancashire and the Heart of the South West. A third pilot is due in the West Midlands, and three more will be selected in April.

Digital Skills Innovation Fund

Another Government initiative, the Digital Skills Innovation Fund is a 1m grants pot that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Combined Authorities can bid for. It funds initiatives which specifically aim to help people take up digital roles. There is an additional 400,000 to provide digital skills to older and disabled people.

Institute of Coding

A new Institute of Coding launched this year as part of the government's Industrial Strategy. Pilot programmes in Leeds, Devon and Somerset, Lincolnshire, Stoke-on-Trent and the West Midlands will test how to reach out and support people with the cost of retraining. Employers will have a tangible input to the curriculum, working with universities to develop specialist skills in areas where they are needed most.

The Institute is funded with 20 million from Government and a further 20 million from a consortium that includes IBM, Cisco, BT, Microsoft, 25 universities, and professional bodies such as the British Computer Society and CREST. The 25 universities involved, led by the University of Bath, range from sector leaders in business and computer science (UCL and Newcastle University) to experts in arts and design (University of the Arts) to specialists in widening participation and outreach (Open University and Birkbeck, University of London).

One Digital

One Digital is a National Lottery-funded project aimed at helping people learn digital skills through local digital champions. It supports people with all kinds of skills, including helping them to get the skills needed for work.

Microsoft's digital skills programme

This digital skills programme is an ambitious programme to deliver 30,000 new digital apprentices, 30,000 trained public sector officials and 500,000 new cloud experts by 2020. The digital skills programme includes a focus on young people, with projects for young people from age 7 upwards. Projects are accessible from the web site, using technology like the micro:bit.

Code Club

Code Club is a global network of free coding clubs for young people aged between 9 and 13. It is run by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK charity. Code Club introduces coding concepts one by one and young people progressively build their knowledge as they complete different projects. There are currently over 12000 clubs in over 160 countries, supporting over 180000 young people learning to code each week. Schools offer space and equipment, and participation is free. Details of projects in your area can be found at the Code Club web site.

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