Roundtable discussing digital skills

The Skills Bill currently going through Parliament sets the scene for technical education policy geared towards the needs of employers. As data becomes more important in our economy, there will increasingly be a need for education that equips future employees with data skills. On the 23 November, representatives from Collab Group colleges sat down with Sandy Grom, the Assistant Director of Skills and Inclusion from DCMS, and Or Lenchner, CEO of Bright Data and member of the UK Government's National Data Strategy Forum, for a roundtable discussion.

This roundtable allowed Collab Group members to get insights on how employers, across multiple sectors, are using data in their day-to-day business, alongside a briefing on the tech skills agenda from a senior Government official. A discussion was held on how they can help employers meet their data skills needs, take up the opportunities to use data in their work, and the government's commitment to unlocking the power of data.

Sandy gave a brief outline of some of the data skills challenges the country is currently facing. Sandy explained that almost half of businesses (48%) were recruiting for roles that require hard data skills, but a similar amount (46%) have struggled to recruit for these roles over the last two years. Sandy asked the participants how well prepared is FE to teach data skills? One challenge that FE is facing is recruitment. Recruitment of specialist teaching / instructing staff has always been a problem for FE Colleges in certain areas, such as construction, engineering, and digital. It has been a challenge due to colleges pay scales being standardised and capped. Due to this, it has made it difficult to recruit staff when colleges are competing with industry as they can offer larger salaries. To overcome this, colleges have had to recruit staff driven by other factors, such as a sense of giving back to the community.

Another challenge discussed was that of lack of clear career guidance that students are given. Students are not taking up data courses in large droves, especially for students who are under 16. While digital courses such as gaming are popular, data science is not talked about with the same enthusiasm, even though data science courses often lead to prosperous careers. Students should be made more aware of this so that they know that pursuing data science can lead them to a successful career. A positive discussion was that FE Colleges are well aligned with employers, local authorities and regulatory bodies. The participants agreed that FE colleges have the potential and ability to develop and deliver high-quality digital curriculum pathways from levels 2-5. Due to the strong FE workforce with modern industry experience is usually supplemented with strong employer input and engagement in curriculum design, delivery, and assessment. The Governments emphasis on the development of L3-5 technical provision also forces the FE sector to review its current curriculum offer and inevitably align its future offer to industry needs and demands to address the skills shortage crisis.

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