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£1 million fund launched to tackle digital skills gap

The government has launched a £1 million Digital Skills Innovation Fund to boost D&I in digital and technology

The funding is designed to help women, disabled people, people from minority ethnic backgrounds or those living in lower socio-economic areas to succeed in digital roles. These include data analysts, programmers, cyber security specialists, software developers and marketeers.

The fund is open for bids from Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and combined authorities for initiatives that specifically aim to help people take up digital roles.

Research from Citizens Online has revealed that 17% of women make up the tech workforce and are underrepresented in the uptake of digital qualifications. Disabled people are four times more likely to lack digital skills than the general population, and 28% of people aged 60 and older are offline.

A £400,000 Digital Inclusion Fund has also been launched to help older and disabled people acquire digital skills.

Meanwhile, separate research from Robert Half found that 93% of chief information officers believe improving digital skills should be the main focus for employers, educators, and the government.

Minister for digital and the creative industries Margot James said that improving access to skills is vital to the growth of the digital economy. “It is crucial everyone is able to take advantage of digital technology; whether it is to learn how to use the internet or develop the skills to work in a tech role," she said.

“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 skills so that no-one is left behind."

Sarah Kaiser, employee experience, diversity and inclusion lead at Fujitsu EMEIA, said that bias within the tech industry is creating a “digital skills gap” that must be tackled.

“With the skills gap costing our economy billions a year, more needs to be done to attract a diverse range of talent into tech roles. A shortage of candidates is partly due to a lack of awareness of the opportunities that exist, and the inaccurate perception that some groups, such as women or LGBT+ individuals, do not belong in the tech sector,” she said.

“We also need to recognise that old-fashioned biases are still built into too many organisations and jobs. However, to benefit from a diverse talent pool we need to consciously create inclusive organisations where everyone can succeed.”

Engaging people from diverse groups will help to protect the digital economy and boost its performance, Kaiser added.

“It is only by engaging a diverse array of people in tech that we can hope to protect the future competitiveness of the UK economy. And from enhancing agility to innovation and customer relationships, diversity and inclusion programmes are crucial for improving business performance, continued growth and success.”