The digital age: challenges and opportunities

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
July, 2015

The internet has had a major impact on British society, but many people still do not have the necessary basic skills. Learn how everyone can play a role in shaping the digital future

The UK is in a healthy position when it comes to the level of support that it offers to digital start-up businesses. With various publicly-funded schemes and an ever-expanding range of alternative sources available, there is the potential for new firms to flourish.

However, a leading figure in technology has warned that we are still suffering from a shortage of imagination at the top level. The low research and development spend compared to businesses in the US could have serious repercussions for our digital future.

It's predicted that 1.2 million web development and programming jobs will need to be filled by 2022

Improving digital understanding

Digital pioneer and founder of, Baroness Martha Lane Fox delivered the BBC's Richard Dimbleby Lecture of 2015 in March this year, with the challenge she put forward quite clear: let's 'make Britain brilliant at the internet', as her DOT EVERYONE campaign website says.

Baroness Lane-Fox called for a new national institution to be created; DOT EVERYONE is a project to propel Britain forward to being the most digital nation in the world. She is passionate about everyone - private companies, public bodies and the public - becoming digitally literate so that the UK can position itself as a world leader in technology and innovation.

Breaking down barriers

In addition to an apparent shortage of digital imagination from leaders within the boardroom, there is also the issue of equality within the industry.

The role of women in the technology sector was highlighted in the BBC lecture, with this point something Baroness Lane-Fox is well-placed to comment on - after overcoming occupational sexism to help create an innovative internet start-up which went on to become one of the success stories of the dotcom boom of the early 2000s.

'I'm enormously concerned that none of the biggest internet businesses we all rely on were founded by or are run by a woman.

'Yes, there are some impressive senior women in tech, women like Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Marissa Mayer running Yahoo! But you can count them on one hand and they're mostly based in the US,' she explained.

With only 14% of those in the tech sector being women, there is a call for females to be better represented and her achievable immediate goal is to 'make the UK the best place to be a female technologist in the world.'

Addressing the digital skills shortage

The skills shortage in the technology industry remains a major cause for concern.

Two million-plus people may already be employed in the creative and digital sectors, contributing £137 billion to the country, yet a report published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) in June 2015 revealed that there are more vacancies in these sectors than across the rest of the UK economy.

It also predicted that 1.2 million web development and programming jobs will need to be filled by 2022. Web developers and programmers are therefore in high demand, as fewer graduates are choosing to enter the sector.

Those who graduate with degrees in relevant subjects are finding it hard to get the work experience they need to secure the all-important first job.

Providing access to work experience

This is where support via a mentoring or apprenticeship scheme will help graduates to stand out. However, this may involve taking the initiative to learn extra skills such as self-learning code, reveals Kin Bang, marketing and admissions manager at We Got Coders, a consultancy that recruits, trains and places graduates in web development roles.

'Despite studying a related degree, graduates are still finding themselves in the catch 22 of not being able to get that first job without relevant work experience,' explains Kin. We Got Coders helps bridge that gap through rigorous training in full-stack web development, which is followed by a paid and mentored work placement.

Kin adds, 'This ensures that every candidate comes out with job-ready skills and can make an immediate positive impact to any development team.'

Becoming a world leader in innovation

Baroness Lane-Fox's message was clear in calling for the UK to become the most connected and creative country in the world. To achieve this would require an inclusive approach and it is hoped that the new dedicated institution will focus on making this goal a reality.

While it is true that the UK's digital industry faces many challenges in getting to this point, there are sure to be many rewards - not least to those graduates that do decide to pursue a career in this field. Not only will they get a shot at becoming another of the nation's great innovators, they will be positioned at the forefront of a growing industry that is moving in only one direction.