Decreasing technical literacy poses threat for UK economy

According to the BBC, a think tank has warned that the UK is heading towards a "catastrophic" digital skills shortage "disaster.” Another foundation, the Learning & Work Institute says the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has dropped 40% since 2015.

Despite this decrease in technical literacy among the young population, demand for jobs in Artificial Intelligence, robotics and cloud computing is increasing.

However, this skill shortage is not only prevalent in the coming generation but is also explicitly shown in older groups too.

Data from the ONS shows that 680,000, 50%, of businesses in cyber-security have a basic skills gap. The most common of these skills gaps are in storing or transferring personal data, setting up configured firewalls, and detecting and removing malware.

This means workers in these fields do not have the skills necessary to work efficiently. Within a traditional industry, such as manufacturing, workers who do not have the skills necessary to do their job will likely yield a reduction in supply, however, within cyber-security, the industry is much more focused on the quality of their products.

This is because, within the industry, companies have to manufacture products that can reliably protect individuals from hackers or other forms of scams on the internet. Hence, the industry requires high levels of innovation as well as technical proficiency.

Therefore, the skills shortage which is prevalent in the UK prevents these firms from supplying the security necessary to be able to compete against other firms, such as in the US, which is home to one of the best cybersecurity companies, McAfee.

Additionally, with technology constantly improving and replacing more and more jobs, the UK population needs to have good technical literacy as doing so will be essential in a world that is becoming more intertwined with technical systems.

Within the cyber sector, half the workforce (49%) have previously worked in a cyber role elsewhere. This shows a lack of occupational mobility, showing that there are little industries where skills can be transferred to cyber-security.

Hence, the industry has a high barrier to entry. This is because it is difficult for individuals to transfer their skill sets in other occupations to cyber-security, additionally, cyber-security is a high-skilled industry making the supply of labour even smaller and amplifying the problem which the UK has.

Consequently, with a decreasing number of young people going into IT, as well as older groups not having the skills necessary to perform work within cyber-related industries, the UK will likely lag behind compared to other countries where technical proficiency is much more prevalent.

This poses a major threat for the UK economy as individuals who do not expand their skill sets to become more proficient at managing computer systems may become redundant in the future as technology begins to replace more and more work.

Because of this, there may be an increase in unemployment within the UK economy in the future as workers will not have the skills necessary to meet the demands of future occupations.

Hence, there may be increased pressure on the government's budget as more and more individuals will have to live off Job Seekers Allowance whilst they attempt to upskill to come back into working life; perhaps an increase in UBI may be necessary for the future to maintain equitable living standards.

However, the UK government is trying to improve the technical literacy of the population by providing compulsory teaching of coding in primary schools. This will hopefully see an upturn in young people taking IT subjects in the future, closing the currently existing skill gap.

But, the provision of these courses may not be enough of an incentive to have individuals commit themselves to careers in computer-related systems, and students who do decide to pursue these careers may find themselves moving to other countries such as America, which provide much higher wages in these fields compared to the UK.

Overall, the lack of technical proficiency within the UK is an apparent problem that has to be solved by the government, if the issue is left unaddressed, the UK will find itself in a dire situation where the working population will be unfit to carry out the tasks which the developing world requires.


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