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Digital skills to be given ‘same level of importance as numeracy and literacy’

News   •   Feb 10, 2016 16:38 GMT

The Skill Funding Agency (SFA) has concluded its review into ‘publicly funded digital skills in further education’ and has outlined the requirements needed to create the digital skills qualifications to meet the needs of learners and employers.

One of the six recommendations made by the review calls for digital literacy to be given the ‘same level of importance as numeracy and literacy’.

The review was conducted following a request from the Skills Minister Nick Boles and Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey. It examines how relevant the SFA-funded qualifications are in relation to responding to today’s technological advancements and creating a structured path from basic digital skills through to the advanced and specialist skills set needed for the increasing number of digital roles across the economy.

It was conducted together with other analysis of digital skills provision in higher education and wider technical and professional reform, and makes a total of six recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Consistency of language

The review states that the need for a consistent, common language that ‘signals the meaning, relevance and importance of digital skills for individuals and industry.’

‘For many people ‘ICT’ and digital skills are interchangeable, but they are not. There has been a move away from how information and communication can improve technology, to how digital content, innovation, skills and technology are embedded in everything we do. The way digital skills is talked about in education and training needs to reflect this in order to provide clarity to learners and employers about the different stages and purposes of digital skills development.’

Recommendation 2: Setting the standards

Clear standards are called for to show the different phases of the development of digital skills. The recommendation defines them as Basic’, ‘general’ and ‘advanced and specialist’ stages and says that these are standards that that achievement and progress must be measured against.

Recommendation 3: Putting the basics in place

It is in the third recommendation that the call for digital literacy to be given parity with numeracy and literacy is made. It states: ‘There needs to be parity of opportunity for individuals to become digitally literate in the same way there is the opportunity for them to become literate and numerate. Alongside English and maths, work should be done to ensure that the right circumstances and right provision exists that will enable all young people and adults to achieve a basic level of digital literacy.’

Recommendation 4: Providing the general skills the workforce need

The review says that within the next 20 years, 90% of jobs will require digital skills. This increasing prerequisite means that ‘digital skills must be integrated within all technical and professional routes to employment, so that they can meet the needs of a broad workforce’.

Recommendation 5: Progression to advanced and specialist digital skills

Whilst digital skills will no doubt be required across a broad spectrum of roles, the need for the advanced level of skills for ‘specialist digital job roles’ should not be forgotten. The report recommends “For specialist digital roles, there should be a transparent and robust progression route for individuals, as a key technical and professional route in and of itself’.

Recommendation 6: Completing the jigsaw

The review says it is important that its finding alongside those of other such reports such as the Shadbolt Review of Computer Science Degree Accreditation and Employability, are considered as to how to deliver a coherent supply of digital skills that will provide the skills to support growth and productivity for the UK economy.

In their foreword in the report, the Ministers stated: “The findings of this report are timely. With the reforms of technical and professional education under way, its recommendations will help the government get the best outcomes for future digital skills provision.

“The pace of technological change means that skills requirements will continue to evolve, and provision must meet these changing needs. To stay relevant, standards must reflect what industry needs and shape the provision that sits underneath them. Delivery of skills provision must also be flexible to ensure that it meets changing local and national priorities.”

Chair of the review and Director of Tech Literacy and Education Programmes at BT, Liz Williams, emphasised the dangers of assuming that young people being at ease with technology was the same as having the required skill set to meet the digital demands of employers and industry. She said: “I frequently hear people use the term ‘digital natives’. Given the strategic importance of this tech literacy, we must move away from the belief that people can acquire these essential skills by osmosis. We should not confuse the confidence young people have using technology with the overwhelming need to put in place a robust structure to deliver digital skills to the level required in the UK, today and going forward.

“For the UK to be at the forefront of digital transformation, we need individuals with digital capability. We have a real opportunity. Get the investment decisions and supporting infrastructure right today, and we have the potential to empower individuals to play a fuller role in society, and make a greater contribution to our national economy.”

The government has said the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport will the SFA will collaborate to work out how the recommendations can be best implemented to make sure the digital skill set can meet the demands of industry.

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