Solving the Digital Skills Gap

By Richard Brooks, Programme Manager at Coventry University talks about the Institute of Coding and how it aims to tackle to UK’s digital skills gap in an article for the National Centre for Universities and Business.

The announcement by Theresa May of the new national Institute of Coding in January 2018 represents a quietly significant moment in the unfolding of the UK Industrial Strategy.

Computing skills are critical for the workplace of the future, but Shadbolt Review of Computer Sciences Degree Accreditation and Graduate Employability found that computer science graduates suffer from higher unemployment rates (11.7% six months after graduation) relative to other STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics (8.4%), whilst paid professionals often lack the opportunities to branch out in the digital world.

IoC_Logo_OnBlue_AWTo address this gap, £20M has been raised by the Office for Students and matched funded by industrial partners working with universities to establish the new national Institute of Coding (IoC). The IoC will transform how digital skills are delivered within higher education and across the workplace. A large sum on the face of it, but small compared to the size of the challenge.

Coventry University is leading on the theme of “digital transformation and workplace skills,” looking at how industry professionals in sectors such as healthcare, advanced engineering, automotive, financial services and the creative sector can grow their capabilities into emerging digital fields.

It’s a diverse and exciting field with lots of opportunity to develop new relationships with industry and new models of teaching. By viewing digital skills as a competency everyone should have, rather than the narrow domain of computing graduates, there is significant opportunity to promote innovation in UK firms and reverse the decline in national productivity.

“By viewing digital skills as a competency everyone should have, rather than the narrow domain of computing graduates, there is significant opportunity to promote innovation in UK firms and reverse the decline in national productivity.”

Yet just as the potential is large, so is the challenge. Currently there are few avenues for professionals trained in other fields to pick up more than a superficial knowledge of computing. To develop courses, universities need insight into the computing needs of industry sectors – not just how to develop new teaching programmes, but also how these new programmes fit into the organisational cultures and industry context of museums, care-homes or factory floors.

This is no small feat of coordination. Business engagement staff must work with industries to identify their needs, feed this back to in-house academics, coordinate expertise across participating universities across the country and get agreements from academic boards before the market moves on.

Just as significant is the question of how these professionals will find the time to start grappling with Python and the ethics of artificial intelligence. Of course, students need access to traditional well-structured class-room based courses, but also flexible options, which enable individuals to find the course that addresses their specific digital skills need and to be able to fit 15 or 30 minutes of study into a crowded working day.

Contact-us-767x368But this leads to the next challenge: who teaches the teachers? If we want dancers and midwives to be able use the power of data analytics or the internet of things, we need academics with interdisciplinary skills to bring together the technical, with the vocational, with the strategic. Developing content across faculties disrupts how universities operate, but if the project is not disruptive, it’s not likely to make transformational progress.

As we are learning, each sector brings its own challenges. When addressing the automotive industry, solutions are needed across the supply chain both within the country and often beyond. By contrast the creative sector is often populated by small, fluid businesses that work closely with each other, encouraging collaborative models of learning.

It’s a tall order to meet all of these needs, but it’s an ambition that potentially benefits all. The Institute of Coding will develop propositions that it will become self-sustaining if it is to succeed. Universities will need to think creatively, to develop portfolios of training programmes, CPDs, accredited modules and fully structured masters and apprenticeship courses, whilst also collaborating across faculties and institutions to bring the right competencies to the right industry, on time.

If successful, the scheme has the potential to create a new wave of interdisciplinary qualifications and push new models of collaboration between universities and industry. To find out more contact us at

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