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Colleges producing too few developers, says IPPR North

The growing digital sector in the North is at risk as colleges churn out too many sub-par IT support staff, and too few developers and "digital pioneers", according to fresh analysis from the Institute for Public Policy Research North.

Experts at the Institute for Public Policy Research North analysed job vacancy shortages in the digital sector, using data from Emsi and Burning Glass, finding:

  • There is a real shortage of digital skills in roles where a higher education level qualification is needed - these roles require advanced mathematical and / or scientific skills, not just IT proficiency
  • But there is no shortage of applicants with further education (college-level) qualifications in digital skills which typically lead to poorly-paid IT support jobs
  • This skills gap threatens the burgeoning digital sector in the North of England, with Manchester’s digital media strengths and the nearby ‘MediaCity’ in Salford clusters to many UK leading media production companies, and Leeds pioneering the use of advanced data analysis to help businesses respond to changing consumer habits.

“Turbulence” in the further education system, a lack of students taking up top apprenticeships, and a failure to embed IT across the National Curriculum are all causes of the looming crisis, the study finds.

The report warns that national policy is too inflexible to deal with specific local skills challenges, and recommends councils and employers work with colleges to develop digital training to meet local demand, which varies hugely from area to area.

Likewise, the National Curriculum must include digital skills throughout the whole curriculum and not just in IT lessons - for example, by teaching coding skills as part of Mathematics.

It also suggests that as and when free movement comes to an end, immigration policy prioritises highly-skilled digital entrepreneurs above lower-skilled migration, as part of the government’s “Global Britain” efforts: earlier this year IPPR called for a new regional immigration policy to give local areas more control over the type of migration that suits local labour needs.

The report will be launched at leading law-firm DAC Beachcroft on 25th April, as part of the Leeds Digital Festival.

Grace Blakeley, report author and researcher at IPPR North, said, “Sadly we’re training too few digital leaders and too many bog-standard IT staff, without the proper skills to meet the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution.

“Instead we need to see many more highly-skilled web developers with skills in complex areas like advanced mathematics to deal with the rise of the robots, and for all of us to have the digital skills to do our jobs - whether that’s a small business owner marketing online, or a doctor analysing data from patients’ wearable tech.

“As free movement comes to an end, to build a “Global Britain”, we have a real opportunity to offer visas for highly-skilled digital leaders to power the UK’s tech industry as part of a more regional immigration system.

“We also need to see colleges, councils and businesses taking control of skills strategies: Whitehall policy is just too detached from local job market needs to meet the challenge of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.”

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