Technology and digital transformation could unlock vast opportunities for our people and the country – if we build the right skills base. Wales needs more talent, but what is being done to promote careers in these areas? Technology Connected and Wales Tech Week Managing Director Avril Lewis shares her thoughts on the future of tech in the region.
Globally, the world of work continues to be increasingly based on and enabled by technology, as reported by The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 when it surveyed 803 companies employing more than 11.3 million workers from all world regions. Of these, more than 85% of these businesses identified new technologies and wider digital access as the trends most likely to drive transformation in their organisation.
It’s essential to consider how to proactively retrain and upskill the existing workforce, particularly those whose jobs may be at risk as the predicted disruption unfurls across the jobs market.
Digital inclusion is essential to people’s lives, but if we are to become leaders and not just followers, we need more people who are digitally capable and confident at work, and many more technology specialists with in-depth knowledge and expertise in roles such as software development and hi-tech engineering.
There is overlap between these groups, so when looking at knowledge and skills acquisition, there is no one pathway or endpoint. Raising skill levels across the population requires a mix of culture change, accessible training opportunities, and a variety of delivery models, all driven by strategic partnerships between private industry, public sector and academia.
Modernising traditional pathways to adapt
A traditional educational route includes GCSEs, A-levels and then an undergraduate degree – but this pathway is unlikely to keep up with the pace of technology.
Welsh universities have realised that degree curriculums needed to reflect demand from industry, with higher education institutions offering a degree option with a year in industry and courses tailored to different areas of high demand such as software engineering and cyber security.
In the region, we have already seen more courses that are industry-led and closely linked with the reality of the workplace – for example, Cardiff University’s National Software Academy (NSA), the University of South Wales (USW) National Cyber Security Academy and Cardiff Metropolitan University’s School of Technologies among others.
Degree apprenticeships in several tech (and engineering) fields – fully funded by the Welsh Government at most of Wales’ universities including Open University – also combine a degree with work. For example, Cardiff Met University offers degree apprenticeships in its School of Technologies, in areas such as applied data science, cyber security and software engineering, combining employment with part-time study.
Explaining the opportunities
The need to shift perceptions about working in Wales is crucial, with the nation able to showcase the highly-skilled, well-paid roles available, and highlight the level of organisations in numerous sectors, from dynamic new startups to multinational corporations.
Retaining more graduates from Welsh universities and targeting those originally from Wales who studied elsewhere should be a priority. There are around 28,000 full-time students from Wales attending university in the rest of the UK. About 37.6% of full-time undergraduates from Wales study in England, a huge potential source of skilled workers for the Welsh economy.
There are a wide variety of training paths that demonstrate what it’s like to work in tech, with opportunities available for students from year nine and up, undergraduates, career changers, returners, former armed forces personnel and anybody else who is tech-curious.
There is incredible potential in tech for budding entrepreneurs. According to startups.co.uk, more than half of startups are in the technology sector. There is substantial economic potential available to Wales if we can combine an entrepreneurial mentality with technical capability.
Collaboration between public and private sectors
While initiatives from educational institutions and private organisations offer opportunities, a joined-up strategic approach is needed to create and deliver dynamic digital skills programmes.
That includes the public and private sectors working together effectively and promoting the different options available. In Wales, there are already collaborations taking place, involving organisations such as the Regional Skills Partnerships, and the growth deals – Swansea Bay City Deal, Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, the North Wales Growth Deal and the Mid Wales Growth Deal.
Greater collaboration is also needed between small and large organisations. The tech industry in Wales is predominantly small and medium-sized enterprises and there is a great opportunity for schemes such as shared apprenticeships or learning schemes across multiple employers.
Both UK and Welsh governments support tech skills development but there is a risk that funding decisions may not be in sync. It’s important to maximise the efficiency of funding to avoid piecemeal decisions, duplication and overlap. As well as funding educational institutions, more financial support should be directed to employers, who know what vendor/specialist delivery and certification is available specifically for their business and can act quickly.
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