As we begin 2017 and look ahead to what the next 12 months will hold, there are some exciting opportunities to boost the UK's position in the global digital economy.
In 2016, significant progress was made to improve the UK's digital capabilities; from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport announcing in September 2016 plans to provide adults in England with free training in basic IT skills as part of an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcement in the Autumn Statement of a new £23bn fund to close the UK's productivity gap; in part through investment in digital communications and infrastructure. Both of these developments demonstrate a warmly welcomed investment by the Government to help the UK become one of the world's pre-eminent powerhouses of digital skills and innovation, but as always, there is more that we can do.
Last year, I wrote in this Huffington Post blog about the publication of the Barclays Digital Development Index. This research benchmarked ten countries around the world to measure and compare the digital readiness and confidence of each country's workforce. The UK ranked fourth overall, behind new and emerging 'digital tiger' economies Estonia, South Korea and Sweden - these being the countries considered most adequately equipped and 'best prepared' to succeed in the digital age.
So what do we need to do to improve the UK's standing?
Firstly, we need to ensure digital skills are at the top of the workplace agenda in 2017. With the report highlighting a disconnect between policies to support digital engagement and a lack of confidence in digital skills at an individual level among British workers, it's evident that we need to bring 'digital upskilling' up the agenda with workplaces up and down the country a brilliant place to focus efforts. Business leaders must pave the way by encouraging their employees to continuously improve their digital skills and by providing the necessary opportunities to do so. Our research showed that the UK lags behind other countries such as Korea in the provision of vocational training in the workplace, and this must change if the UK is to succeed on a global stage in the long term.
Secondly, we need to ensure we provide digital skills for the entire workforce, and not just particular groups. The Government's plan to provide all adults with free basic IT skills is a great step forward, but we need to keep up the momentum. To-date the Government has successfully rallied the support of a range of third- and private-sector partners to implement its digital skills strategy, and has also focussed on developing the talent base of ICT professionals, but this could be undermining essential digital skills among the broader workforce. Clear quantitative targets and timelines for improvement and developments beyond specialist ICT skills would be a welcome step in the right direction.
Thirdly, we need to keep up the focus on digital skills in schools. While the UK is top of the class in our research for the provision of digital technologies and equipment in schools, including laptops, tablets and even gadgets for learning coding, we are facing challenges when it comes to the uptake of computer science courses in higher education. In order to ensure the appeal of digital learning extends well beyond teenage years, we should consider how to better promote computer science as a valuable career choice, both in the business and academic community.
And lastly, we need to focus in 2017 on equipping ourselves with the knowledge needed to live our lives safely online. This applies to both individuals and businesses. Over 2015/2016 it was estimated that cybercrime and fraud cost the UK economy £11bn , this threat is only going to grow as we increasing conduct our work and lives online. We need to ensure we all have the knowledge and confidence to protect ourselves - our personal data and devices - in this digital age.
The digital revolution is having a profound effect on our lives by dramatically changing the way we live, work and interact with one another. Today, inventions and innovations are happening at speeds which were previously unimaginable, providing new and exciting opportunities for us all.
Now is the time to take everyone forward together in the digital age - and I would urge UK plc to support the Government in leading the charge for true digital transformation in the UK over the coming year.