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The Technological Revolution Is All Well and Good - But We Must Ensure That the Digital Skills Gap Is Bridged

20/10/2014 15:08 BST | Updated 18/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The "technological revolution" is well underway, according to the many stories on this subject scattered throughout the media. It would seem that there is an inevitability about our digital future if you were to adhere to conventional wisdom; although so far there has not been proper examination as to how we are going to cope socially, economically and culturally.

In terms of differing viewpoints regarding this, there are those who take a dystopian stance - all doom and gloom about the inevitable "hollowing out" of middle income jobs (I do believe this will and is happening - as to what extent in the next few decades is unpredictable.) On the other hand, there are the eternal optimists, who believe that more efficiency and consumer choice in terms of services will make everything better and cheaper. There is something in this: I do believe that if technological advances were fully unleashed in every area of private and public life the benefits would be tremendous - yet as with all relatively sudden changes there are all sorts of knock-on effects and problems which can arise. Especially in areas where people are resistant to adjusting and if history tells us anything, it's that people often are. Technological advancement can be deemed as a threat and create initial difficulties in society in terms of jobs and social order - at least in the short-term before the necessary adaptions are made.

This is why I'm somewhat on the fence as to how things will play out over the next few decades. I believe that the developments are exciting and that our lives could be improved in many ways by technology and I hope that people generally keep an inquiring and open mind. However, it's an old but timeless story: people often fear the future and look for reassurance and answers from external sources. For example, public institutions do and have not always willingly embraced the concept of deep structural change. When it comes to digital tools, there has been some progress, but the more profound attitudinal shift necessary may take a lot of time. I could be wrong, but the streamlining (and even potential job losses) necessary, may lead to a lifting of the drawbridge and a further intransigence already particular to this sector.

One such problem that will become increasingly evident as the technological "race" speeds up, is the lack of digital skills among the young. This generation may be savvy when it comes to understanding how to use apps, social networks and the like; however, the more advanced technical skills that will be needed to help businesses and public institutions navigate their way successfully when it comes to understanding how to deliver resources and information; are sorely lacking.

According to a study carried out by O2 towards the end of 2013, the UK will need 750,000 skilled digital workers by 2017 - potentially creating a "lost generation" if these jobs cannot be filled by young people. The number of high-growth companies across the UK increased by 30 percent in the year to March 2013, according to The Business Growth Fund and Barclays report and could cost the UK a couple of billion annually. London especially could feel the repercussions of a skills shortage, as 27 percent of all job growth in the UK capital is generated by the tech and digital sector.

So, how can we ensure that children and young people gain access to the right training and resources and that teachers are able to deliver these skills? The government is trying to address this by tackling the problem at its roots. From September, we'll see the start of a compulsory computing curriculum, and the Department for Education is set to spend £4.6 million to support teachers with little or no experience in this area. However, will this be enough and happen in time? It is not just the younger generation: some 90 percent of new jobs require some level of online skills, so the adult workforce needs training up too.

In order to combat this, the government has announced an £18.4 million investment into a project led by Cisco for adults. There will also be an investment of over £35 million to help the development of industry-accredited apprenticeships, conversion courses and graduate training programmes. Despite these efforts, there are concerns industry-wide that as businesses grow and more start-ups emerge there will still be a lot more digital jobs than there are quality candidates.

As pressure on businesses grows due to the converging of roles and transformation of the skillsets needed; bridging the digital gap is proving increasingly urgent. The gaping holes in the labour market and curriculum are more exposed, as companies become focused on meeting consumer demand. Adapting to this new economic reality is highly important if the UK wants to keep its lead as pioneers in the digital and technology sectors.