How a new innovation fund will improve diversity in the digital and technology sectors

A new fund has been launched to support the tech stars of tomorrow. The £1 million Digital Skills Innovation Fund is open for bids from Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Combined Authorities for initiatives that specifically aim to help more people take up digital roles.

The fund is part of the 2017 UK Digital Strategy, which sets out the government’s approach to ensure that people have the skills they need to participate fully in the digital economy and that they are prepared for technological change.

The diversity and skills gap challenge 

A 2017 study by Barclays found that 43% of adults in the UK do not have basic digital skills, such as word-processing, database, spreadsheet or social media management skills – which are required by around 63% of jobs – and as technology continues to progress, the gap is likely to worsen. What’s more is that unemployed adults are 5% more likely to lack the basic digital skills than the national average.

On the other hand, research also reveals that only 17% of women make up the technology workforce, meaning that they are heavily under-represented in the uptake of digital qualifications.

Building a more diverse workforce

The purpose of the Digital Skills Innovation Fund is to improve diversity in the digital economy and address local skills challenges. It will also help boost the skills of underrepresented people and those living in lower socioeconomic groups, allowing them to succeed in digital roles such as data analysts, programmers, cyber security specialists and software developers.

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Development recruitment specialist at Networkers, Rupert Ronca, explained:

“More diversity in tech is long overdue. With a huge shortage of talent and more and more companies reliant on technology, there has never been a better time to get into IT. Meanwhile, companies with diverse workforces are reaping the benefits.

“A more diverse workforce helps businesses come up with better solutions. If the people are too similar then the business will miss out on innovation and build products for a limited audience. The more we can do to encourage people from all walks of life to get into tech, the more creative the future of the industry will be.”

Minister for Digital, Margot James, said: “It is crucial that everyone is able to take advantage of digital technology. If we want to maintain our position as a world-leading digital economy we need to work with industry, local authorities and the voluntary sector to develop solutions so no-one is left behind.”

Chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership Network and Digital Skills Partnership board member, Christine Gaskell, added: “As the rate of technological change and innovation continues, tech is becoming increasingly integrated within every sector and industry. We share the aspiration to ensure that more people have the skills and creativity that will enable them to contribute to, and benefit from, new economic opportunities and deliver more inclusive growth.

“Any initiative with the aim to make more people tech savvy and to bring more women and young people into the sector to create new start-ups and unearth the next digital superstars has to be welcomed. As such, we are working with the Government through the Digital Skills Partnership to bring together key partners at national and local level to close the digital skills gap that currently exists.”

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