What does the Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021 mean for digital jobs, skills, and migration?
As the Government's legislative agenda for the year has focused on equipping people with the skills they need, it is no surprise that the Budget promises to provide a world-class education to all by increasing skills spending over the Parliament by 3.8bn.
The road to a digitised, highly-skilled economy
techUK welcomes the Government's plan to expand T Levels and roll out the Prime Minister's lifetime skills guarantee. techUK has previously called on Government to work with us and the wider tech industry to open up new flexible pathways for people to train, retrain and reskill so they can find their way into good jobs that enable them to thrive in the post-pandemic economy. The tech sector has an opportunity to equip people displaced by the pandemic and the changing requirements of the workplace with the skills, direct opportunities and careers to get back to work, at the forefront of a growing sector.
The increased funding for apprenticeships is a start to skilling people across the country. Throughout the pandemic techUK has seen a massive increase in people recognising the growing importance of digital skills in the future jobs market and signaling their interest in acquiring these skills through short online courses. If we can use this momentum to drive the UK's digital skills base and build a culture of lifelong learning, we will give the industry the firepower it needs to lead us out of the recession and future-proof the careers of millions of people.
The Budget has also announced further investment in skills bootcamps, which will quadruple the number of places. This scheme, while in its early days, is promising. However, the Government has not been able to evaluate the impact of such skills bootcamps. Better data is needed to understand employment outcomes and whether the scheme has succeeded in its goal of helping people into work. In particular, there is a need to understand how such bootcamps have impacted jobs across the different regions of the UK to see if changes are needed to how the scheme is scaled.
The Budget has increased skills funding by 42%, which certainty helps, but techUK would like clarity on whether this in addition to the money earmarked for the National Skills Fund or in replacement. In 2019 the Government had committed to investing 2.5 billion for the National Skills Fund. The Fund was a manifesto commitment to help adults learn valuable skills and prepare for the economy of the future.
While the increase funding is encouraging, this may not go far enough, quick enough as lots of UK tech companies are trying to grow. techUK has argued for bigger interventions to boost training like an SME tax credit for digital skills, not seen in this Budget.
Skills gaps of today and the future
There is a growing mismatch in the supply and demand of digital skills in the UK, which will be accentuated by the economic fallout of the pandemic. The current skills gaps in AI, data analytics, cyber security for example, show the depth of the work needed to upskill and retain people. Such technologies are creating requirements for specialist skills that the labour market is struggling to supply which has led to intensifying competition for talent. The Government recently launched its National Data and National AI Strategies where skills and talent are central to investing in the long-term needs of the tech ecosystem. Despite additional investment from Government, these gaps remain significant and are growing. To continue to fill the tech and tech-enabled jobs that will prove key for our economic recovery, the UK needs a flexible range of education options that support different parts of the population with differing skill levels. techUK has highlighted this to Parliamentarians ahead of the debates for the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill and has made recommendations on how this can be done in order to support employers, support learners and deliver change at scale.
Access to talent through migration
The UK tech sector's ability to attract and retain talent relies on businesses being able to be agile and dynamic to plan for the future. techUK's members are committed to building a strong domestic talent pipeline, but for the UK to remain world leading in fields such as AI and quantum the UK must remain open and attractive to international innovators, investors and the talent that supports that ambition.
techUK welcomes the Budget's focus on migration which the UK's new Scale-Up Visa and Global Talent Network. This will make it quicker and easier for growing digital businesses to bring in highly skilled individuals. The ability to attract the best global talent was also a key tenant of the Government's R&D People and Culture Strategy. As we approach the end of the first year of the new immigration system, techUK believes this is an opportunity to streamline the immigration system so it engenders public confidence and works for businesses of all sizes.
As we look forward to stepping out of the shadow of the pandemic, there has never been a greater need for us to work together in a concerted and committed drive to transform the UK skills landscape. This can only be achieved through long-term thinking and significant investment. Onwards to a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy of the future.