Effectively Preparing for the Digital Revolution

Louise Aitken, the Skills Lead for the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, outlines innovative plans to address the local and national need for a digitally-skilled workforce with the IG Central and Local Government Hub

The South East LEP (SELEP) is the largest in the country, covering Essex, Kent, East Sussex, Medway, Southend and Thurrock and with a population of 4.2 million, set to increase to nearly 5 million by 2039. The digital sector is significant and established as a clear priority through our recently launched SELEP skills strategy  2018-2023. Vacancy numbers are high and are increasingly difficult to fill; in one calendar year there were over 35,000 digital vacancies including web and software development, programming and coding.  Moreover, across 170,000 total enterprises in the SELEP area the need for digital skills is clear, ranging from software developers in logistics to cyber resilience in finance.

It is predicted that the digital revolution will continue to transform workplaces with some forecasts suggesting that more than 10 million jobs nationally could be at risk of being replaced by automation over the next ten years. This also means that the jobs on offer are likely to change to an increasingly technical focus. This is already evident in areas such as self-service check outs and robotics used in warehouses. Many of the jobs at risk, but not all, will be lower skilled jobs. The Learning & Work Institute predicts an oversupply of more than six million low skilled and two million intermediate skilled workers by 2024.

Our skills strategy  explored this further and concluded that technological advances represent huge potential for skills development. Many schools and further and higher educational establishments now use virtual reality (VR), drones and robotics. VR and simulators mean that people can now be trained remotely resulting in greater volumes or reducing the need for onsite training. We have seen this starting to be used to great effect in rural areas and spaces such as prisons locally. VR has also been used to raise awareness of key sectors and challenge misconceptions.

This led us to put a European Social Fund call for tender out around VR, both as an awareness raising tool and to enhance learning. The first of its kind, this recognises the positive role technology can play in social mobility and we look forward to seeing resulting programmes going forward in the coming months. It also led us to bid successfully to be a pilot Digital Skills Partnership (DSP) area working in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Our new DSP Co-ordinator Jim Wilkinson has hit the ground running and describes his first weeks in a DCMS blog here.

We recognise that we can’t address the digital challenge alone, so the DSP represents a significant opportunity for us to work in partnership with government and many local partners including employers, colleges, universities, the voluntary sector and training providers. Our June launch in Hastings highlighted a lot of existing good practice locally such as the national pathfinder project led by charity Seaview to support homeless people access digital support. We are already taking forward work with partners such as Google and Microsoft and offering ‘Digital Garages’ to a range of cohorts across our geography. Such partners bring important capacity to offer digital training and assist in awareness raising of the range of roles and opportunities on offer in SMEs locally.