The UK’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016 sent shockwaves of disruption through every industry imaginable. A plummeting pound had many fearing a mass exodus of businesses from the UK, with the country’s position as a leading tech hub under serious threat as a result of the uncertainty Brexit instilled. Nearly a year on and, though a great deal of uncertainty lingers, the government has released its plan to combat the stormy seas and ensure Britain has the best chance of a prosperous digital future.
The involvement of big banks in the strategy has been a key talking point for many major media outlets. Alongside major tech companies like Apple, Sky, Microsoft, and Samsung, major UK banks will be part of the governments new Digital Skills Partnership. The program aims to create some four million training opportunities for British citizens. Barclays, for example, will teach 45,000 children to code, while offering classes on cyber-awareness and other digital skills to one million people. Lloyds Banking Group are to run face-to-face digital skills training to both individuals and businesses, numbering in the millions.
Ultimately, the aim of the Digital Skills Partnership is to empower more British people to be able to work in tech-based jobs. Plugging the skills gap in the tech sector has been a concern the world over for years, and the government’s albeit belated strategy is at least attempting to alleviate the problem. Other ‘opportunities’ include BT’s pledge to give teachers the necessary skills to properly teach 500,000 children to become digitally proficient. Google will also be rolling out its Summer of Skills program, a tourism-focused tech drive that will be targeted mainly at seaside towns and other holiday destinations.
The government’s plan may be a step forward, but Westminster is just one part of the drive to arm more British citizens with the necessary digital skills to help the country progress. Critics of the strategy claim that it doesn’t go far enough, and that its success will hinge on the level of commitment from big businesses. ‘We need to invest in education and start-ups and skills,’ Ovum analyst Chris Pennell told the BBC. ‘I would like to see more long-term thinking about education and digital skills because digital businesses will be crucial to the economy after Brexit.’ He also criticised the government’s plans to create more technology forums, suggesting that the existing ones be joined up instead.
Jon Andrews, Head of Technology and Investments at PwC said: ’The government’s digital strategy sets out the challenge but business will be looking for more detail on how we’re going to address it. The commitment to spend £17.3m on robotics and AI research, teach coding to 45,000 children and set up digital hubs – is a useful starting point, but to really help the UK to prosper post-Brexit we need to create the right environment and a flexible regulatory framework so that this vision can translate quickly into world-leading digital innovation by UK organisations.’
‘To future-proof the UK economy we need to up-skill people at every stage of their lives and start it at a much younger age. This should be broader than just digital skills and include helping workers to be creative, adaptive and critical thinkers as our research shows that these are the skills most in demand by UK CEOs as they are less likely to be replaced by robots. This has implications for the education system – in the future knowledge will be easy to get hold of, so we need to focus on making sure that we are teaching young people to be creative and analytical.’
It remains to be seen whether the current UK government can navigate its way through Brexit and avoid a very possible disaster for the country’s economy. The UK is something of a leader in areas like AI and tech innovation, though, so there are some reasons to be optimistic in the digital space. The government recently announced a ‘major review’ into artificial intelligence in an effort to cement the UK’s foothold in the field, which included a £17.3 million funding for AI research at UK universities.
According to engadget, other important elements of the announcement include a more ‘robust regulatory regime’ that aims to add more age checks to harmful content, the ability for the police to use biometric tools for DNA and fingerprint matching in the hope of speeding up investigations, cyber clubs in schools to push the more talented children towards digital skills and digital careers, and a simplified online passport renewal system. The strategy is positive, but its success hinges far too much on the commitment of business, which in a post-Brexit climate will be incredibly difficult to predict.