‘Ease visa restrictions to solve digital skills shortage’ say MPs

Urgent action is needed to tackle a chronic digital skills shortage in the UK, according to a report on Monday from the House of Commons' science and technology committee.

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The committee said that employers were likely to need up to 745,000 additional employees with digital skills next year and, unless this demand could be met domestically, companies would have no option but to outsource work or turn to foreign workers.With this in mind, the MPs said the qualifying requirements for 'shortage occupation' IT jobs under the Tier 2 visa scheme – which applies to foreign hirings from outside the European Union - should be overhauled with a view to allowing small and medium enterprises to recruit people with critical digital skills from abroad.In terms of monetary loss, the MPs estimated the digital skills gap in a country where almost six million people had never used the internet and 12 million lacked basic digital knowledge, was costing the UK economy £63 billion in lost GDP.The report said that almost 90 per cent of new jobs would require digital skills in future and that 72 per cent of employers were found to be unwilling to interview candidates who did not possess basic computing skills.Yet the MPs found there were "stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems" that needed to be urgently addressed in the education system, with 22 per cent of IT equipment in schools found to be ineffective and only 35 per cent of computer science teachers having the relevant qualifications.The MPs also questioned why existing government policies on a so-called 'digital strategy' had taken so long to deliver. They said the strategy needed to be more aggressive and offer a pragmatic vision for the future through a collaborative effort among industry, educators and government departments.The report said, "Digital exclusion has no place in 21st century Britain. While the government is to be commended for the actions taken so far... stubborn digital exclusion and systemic problems with digital education and training need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the government's forthcoming digital strategy."Nicola Blackwood, who chairs the committee, said, "Although the UK leads Europe on tech, we need to take concerted action to avoid falling behind. We need to make sure tomorrow's workforce is leaving school or university with the digital skills that employers need."The committee proposed some measures that should be introduced immediately, including making digital skills a core component of every apprenticeship, regardless of whether or not the work directly involved computers and technology.MPs also wanted to see all universities offering job-oriented, vocational-focused digital career advice where students would be provided with 'code conversion courses' to help graduates from non-computer science backgrounds enter the tech sector.Responding to the report, a government spokesman said, "This government recognises the crucial role digital skills play in our society and economy. Our Digital Strategy, to be published shortly, will set out how we will help employers and individuals access the tools they need to power our digital economy."This will make sure we are well placed to remain a tech leader in Europe. We will consider the select committee's report and respond in due course."

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