Digital Technology: Training

Department for Education written question – answered at on 29 November 2023.

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Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Labour

To ask His Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to expand the delivery of digital skills short courses and skills academies.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Labour

To ask His Majesty's Government what plans they have to support vocational learning pathways for the delivery of digital skills education.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Labour

To ask His Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to address the digital skills gap for those aged over 50.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Digital and computing skills are critical to achieving the department’s science and technology superpower ambitions, which were published in March 2023 in the UK Science & Technology Framework. Programmers, data scientists, and other key digital roles will help to deliver the department’s ambitions for the critical technologies detailed in the Framework, like AI and Quantum, but their importance is not limited to these technologies. These roles are fundamental to the wider labour market with 60% of businesses believing their reliance on advanced digital skills will increase over the next five years.

The department is investing in employer led technical skills and education, with courses and training in digital subjects often at the forefront of its reforms. For example, the department has introduced three Digital T Levels. These are gold-standard Level 3 technical qualifications designed with employers to meet industry standards. They have a significant industry placement built in to give experience of work within the digital sector.

There are also over 30 Digital Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) now being taught. These are Level 4/5 qualifications developed by awarding bodies in collaboration with employers so students can develop the digital skills that employers want. Additionally, digital apprenticeships continue to grow with over 22,000 starts in 2022/23, which is an increase of 19% from the previous year.

The department is building on these initiatives through the Digital and Computing Skills Education Taskforce which brings together government and external expertise to increase the numbers of individuals taking digital and computing qualifications in mainstream and tertiary education and to attract individuals into digital jobs.

The department’s ambitious skills agenda is backed by an additional £3.8 billion in further education and skills over this Parliament. The department is using this funding to ensure people of all ages can access high quality training and education which addresses skills gaps and boosts productivity. Key examples of how this funding has been used to support digital skills can be seen in the introduction of 21 Institutes of Technology (IoTs) across England, the introduction of the Free Courses for Jobs offer and the national roll out of Digital Skills Bootcamps.

IoTs are leaders in the provision of high quality higher level technical education. They are employer-led collaborations that bring together the best of existing further education provision with higher education partners to develop a high skilled, diverse workforce that is designed to respond to evolving sector needs. IoTs aim to help close skills gaps in STEM sectors, like digital. By establishing IoTs as a permanent network of ‘go to’ providers with deep employer relationships for Level 4/5 higher level STEM training, they play a critical role in boosting local economies and delivering the Lifelong Learning Entitlement and HTQs.

Launched in April 2021, the Free Courses for Jobs offer allows eligible adults to access over 400 Level 3 qualifications (A level equivalent) for free, including those linked with digital careers. These courses are ideal for those adults over 50 without a Level 3 qualification that are looking to improve their digital skills, retrain or upskill to meet their potential.

Skills Bootcamps are free, flexible courses of up to 16 weeks for adults aged 19 or over, with courses available in digital subjects such as software development, cyber security, and data analytics. The majority of the trailblazers in Skills Bootcamps launched in 2020, were Digital. Digital training constituted the biggest element of the department’s provision in the ensuing waves of delivery in the 2021/22, 2022/23 and 2023/24 financial years.

More Skills Bootcamps in Digital are being delivered through the launch of a Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) which enables the department to procure Skills Bootcamps in response to quickly emerging skills needs and changing employment patterns. The department focused on Skills Bootcamps in digital skills as a priority for the first competition run from the DPS, and Digital skills are further included in the second competition.

Digital skills are increasingly critical for all citizens, enabling them to play a full part in society. Through the Adult Education Budget, the department introduced a new legal entitlement in 2020 for adults to study free, high quality Essential Digital Skills Qualifications and, from August 2023, new digital Functional Skills Qualifications. These qualifications were developed against employer supported National Standards and provide learners with the essential digital skills they need to participate actively in life, work and society.

The government recognises that formal qualifications are not appropriate for everyone, which is why it also funds community learning and other non-regulated learning, such as building confidence in essential digital skills, through the Adult Education Budget. Many local authorities and other further education providers are already delivering these courses that help equip adults with the essential digital skills they need for work, life and further learning. From next year, the Adult Skills Fund will continue to support both qualification-based learning and tailored learning (which will include non-regulated learning to build digital skills) so adults can retrain and upskill in the most effective way.

Through skills reforms, the government is continuing to ensure learners are supported, including those who need the most support, to train, retrain and upskill so they can climb the ladder of opportunity towards better jobs, better wellbeing, and better options for the future.

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