Written by Alyssa Walker

The technological revolution is not working in the UK and some say that not enough children are getting the digital education they need to make it in college or a career. Girls, especially, are less likely to go into computer science and other STEM-related fields

According to the latest annual Roehampton Annual Computing Education report, which analyzed the number of students who achieve GCSE and A-level computing qualifications in 2017, only 12 percent of all students chose to study computer science. 

ICT, or Information and Communication Technology, will phase out of the curriculum. Some saw the ICT as too easy, nothing more than basic skills around using Microsoft Office. Its replacement computer science curriculum is proving hard. 

Girls, too, are less likely to take computer science, comprising only 20 percent of GCSE entrants in the subject. 

According to the report, the end of the ICT and the new GCSE and A-level requirement "will disproportionately impact girls, poorer students, and some ethnic minority groups."

Peter Kemp at the University of Roehampton said, "The government's refusal to renew GCSE and A-level IT, against the will of the teaching community, is making computing more exclusive." 

He added, "The overemphasis on computer science seems likely to lead to fewer students, particularly girls, studying any digital qualification at school. I think it's time to rebalance what's on offer."

What do you need to know about the UK's digital divide? Let's take a closer look. 

Why is it a serious issue?

Despite being digital natives, there's a surprising lack of digital skills among the existing workforce. Last year, The Guardian reported that the digital skills shortage costs the country about $2.6 billion per year in higher salaries, temporary staff, and recruitment.

The Guardian cited research last year by The Open University, which found that of 400 companies surveyed in the UK, about 90 percent could not find candidates with the required skills in a one-year period. 

The Open University's external engagement director, Steve Hill, said employers needed to offer more professional development. He said, “The UK challenge of finding talent with the right skills means that businesses need to look at recruitment, development, and retention differently."

The inability to find and hire competent workers with the required technological skills is a major problem because almost all companies and organizations today require the use of digital tools.

According to TrainingIndustry.com, Jake Schwartz, co-founder and CEO of General Assembly, said, "All companies are becoming tech companies, as competition to compete in the digital marketplace continues. As a result, we’re rapidly shifting toward an economy in which every employee needs a variety of modern skills. For everyone from entry-level hires to the C-suite, being tech- and data-literate is an integral part of the job description.” 

This applies not just to the UK, but worldwide. Employees need to have skills not just in ICT, but in software engineering, user experience, user interface, digital marketing, and data science, among others. 

What can be done about it?

According to the UK government, roughly 12.6 million people lack the digital skills necessary to perform jobs, many of which go unfilled. 

Flexible work-based training programs may offer part of the solution. If you are already in the workforce, talk to your employer to see what he or she can do regarding your professional development in digital learning.

If there is specific software you need to know, ask about taking a course to learn it. If you need help operating your computer, ask for it. If your employer is willing to help you out, go for it. 

Larger companies are often more likely than smaller businesses and organizations to offer this kind of training. If you work for a smaller company, there is still hope, though. Look for free resources, like OERs and MOOCs to help you through, and ask your employer to offer compensation for your training time.

Support in the education sector will also help, which is why many are advocating for a combination of ICT and higher level computer science in high school. 

The UK government is pushing to make learning computer skills more desirable by partnering with various businesses and organizations like TCS to encourage more youth to get involved in computer science. 

How can students improve their digital skills?

Wherever you land on the digital skills spectrum, you are going to need to stay on top of it. Step #1? Figure out which digital skills you need.

At a minimum, you should top up your social media skills, and be at least familiar with most platforms. This does not mean go out and sign up for every platform. It means maybe use a few, know about the others, and understand the basics of social media marketing. 

Familiarize yourself with the basics of content marketing, from social media status updates to blog posts. You should understand what SEO is, and know what the term 'analytics' means. 

You should be well-versed in email and video and understand that for as many ideas as you have, there are just as many platforms that do the same thing.

Do you have to know all of this in detail? No, but get the lingo down, pick a few, and maybe take an online workshop or two. 

It's pretty easy in today's world to find a reputable, free online class to learn just about any digital platform you can imagine. 

While many of the platforms that you may have to use for work are complicated, the concept behind them is not. Start with the platform's web page, or run a YouTube search for educational videos that may help you. 

You can learn all about analytics, social media marketing tools, coding basics, Wordpress, project management, and video editing all by running a Google search, combing through YouTube, and even by looking at some professional resources like Lynda.com. Some of those professional resources cost money, but guess what? They are often free at your public library. Check it out. 

Learn more about online studies. 

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Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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