Predicting the skills that will be needed by the workforce of the future is a hot topic, and something that often seems impossible at a time when digital is already rapidly changing what we do and how we do it. From concerns about the digitisation of low-skilled jobs to the increasingly urgent need for people who can use technology to push the boundaries of progress in all sectors, the digital skills debate is complex and reaches into every part of the workforce.
The House of Lords recently set up a Digital Skills Committee to consider “information and communications technology, competitiveness and skills in the UK”. Its call for evidence asks some difficult questions: what skills does a future workforce need if the UK is be competitive on the global stage; how do we prepare young people for careers that might not yet exist; and how do we support businesses to take full advantage of digital technologies, driving economic growth?
Our digital participation inquiry considered the issue of digital skills in the Scottish context. It found that, in light of the unpredictable nature of the skills needed in the future, the key building blocks for everyone have to be strong literacy, numeracy and information literacy. These are the skills that will allow people to continue to learn and adapt to changing demands long after leaving formal education. They must be at the heart of the Scottish (and UK) curriculum: the responsibility of all teachers, in all subjects, and at all stages of education.
Concerns were raised across Scotland on the variation in teachers’ own abilities in information literacy and digital skills, meaning that they must be supported to develop these skills and keep them up to date. Aspects of information literacy, digital skills and basic computer science should be included in programmes of learning for all teachers in training. More flexibility in the use of filters in schools would also allow teachers to make more creative use of digital tools in the classroom, and provide a safe but realistic environment for pupils to learn to become responsible digital citizens.
Ultimately, whether for the workplace or at home, it is becoming increasingly necessary that everyone has basic digital skills, whatever that means now, in five years, or in fifteen years’ time. But for Scotland, and the UK, to be competitive on the global stage, it will also require workers with high level ICT skills who can practically apply technologies to their areas of expertise to drive progress and innovation. And, while not everyone will need to understand how the technologies they use work, the potential for high-growth businesses and industries to emerge from the development of digital innovations, means that the UK needs to produce and attract computer science graduates of international calibre.