Time to invest in a Digital Skills Academy
IT is often said that education is the most powerful weapon to change the world. It’s the key to lifting people out of poverty and it’s about investing in the future. That said, at the risk of being negative, I’ll get the bad news out of the way first. Just 21% of Jersey’s working age population are educated to degree level (the OECD definition of ‘highly skilled’) according to the last census, which puts us in the bottom 15% of European cities.
You could argue that skill isn’t necessarily taught by a degree education, but nonetheless, it is a surprising statistic. It can be partly explained away by the fact we have a highly successful finance industry and many might choose to go into that workplace straight from school rather than leaving to get a degree. We also suffer from a lack of graduate retention – our 18-year-olds head off to the big rock and many don’t return, and as we don’t have a university we don’t gain students from off Island to compensate.
So how does this impact the digital industry in particular? Well, we know that there is a skills shortage in the Island. Education has been working to update the digital training in our schools and there are many passionate teachers helping develop our future employees, but there is a long way still to go.
In December of last year, we worked with a University of Exeter research team to review the current pipeline of digital skills, training and industry demand. Their findings backed up industry experience, that skills training needs to be across the ages, not just in our schools.
Demand is outstripping supply and if we are going to retain the innovative digital companies as they grow, then we need to ensure they can get the staff they need.
This year Digital Jersey is going to prioritise working with the Education Department to address these issues. Our Digital Skills Escalator will bring academics and industry together to provide a clear route to secure well-paid jobs.
We will put this in place at every stage of the education process, from school to workplace. However, the most important of the challenges, and something I feel is essential if we are going to build a strong digital industry, is to invest in a Digital Skills Academy for higher education, both for local students and to attract ones from abroad. Smaller jurisdictions, notably the Isle of Man, have done it, so there is no excuse for us not to.
We have to do this for those who may be displaced through automation in the workplace and for the employers who need the highly skilled workforce to grow their businesses. We also need to do this for our children and their future. We can’t compete, innovate and build a digitally enabled workforce if we aren’t investing in education and training. We don’t want our growing businesses moving off Island due to the skills constraints. We need these companies to stay here and continue to benefit our economy.
There is a recognition and appetite for this gear change and my team and I at Digital Jersey, are looking forward to working with government to make this a reality.