The future of the digital world

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Illustration by Ben Wiseman

They say if you give a man a fish, he’ll feed himself for a day, but teach a man to fish and he’ll never go hungry again. But what happens if the fish adapt to the fishing techniques faster than the man can learn them?

Predicting the future has always been a fine art. Even the smartest economists are usually looking back to historic data to spot trends and patterns to predict future events, which is hardly an accurate science. If you believed the economists of the 1960s, by now we’d all have robots and flying cars! Predicting the digital skills required by industry has always been challenging. Innovation in the tech sector has been the lifeblood of progress, yet innovation and disruption has created a gulf of skills gaps that have presented a significant challenge for the UK government and awarding organisations alike. The buzz-word these days is ‘future-proofing’, but future-proofing curriculum risks it becoming too vague and open to interpretation by those delivering it, which is hardly the gold standard of high quality training.

Numerous studies have been carried out by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and The Tech Partnership, and in 2016 the government released a skills report outlining what it predicted were the key skills the tech industry will be looking for over the next 10 years. In reviewing this 130 page report, what really stood out was the need to bridge the gap between the business operations and the technological capabilities of the organisation. There was a strong theme of truly integrating the digital capabilities of the business into the everyday business functions of the corporation.

"Innovation and disruption has created a gulf of skills gaps that have presented a significant challenge..."

The biggest challenge this posed was the need for improved language and communication between its business and digital departments. In simpler terms, operational departments need to be upskilled to understand data and technological capabilities, and the tech departments need to understand business.

At the heart of all this is data. Our future digital workforce needs to be able to collect, store, present and utilise data in a way that will benefit its customers and provide them with targeted products and services. Big data is big business, and organisations like Google are leading the way. Today, Youtube videos learn your likes and dislikes and every video you watch informs sophisticated algorithms who you are and what advertisements you’re likely to be interested in. Every ‘like’, ‘skip’, ‘subscribe’ and ‘favourite’ click builds up a very accurate profile of our social and personal lives. This data is then analysed and the algorithm gets better at suggesting products and services we are more likely to buy... and it’s working. Businesses are advertising smarter and are targeting the people most likely to buy.

In summer 2018, Pearson launched a new qualification designed specifically for our future digital leaders (14-16 year olds). The BTEC in Digital Information Technology (DIT) includes the biggest trending digital skills delivered in a way that’s relatable and easily understood. Big Data, User Interface Design, Digital Communication, Cyber Security, and other topics are all built into the content giving those who will be shaping our future the best start in their digital careers. The digital sector in the near future will require people with a diverse set of skills who can marry up the tech world and business world and present it in a way that everyone understands.

The future generation of digital leaders need us to show them the path today, so that tomorrow they can create a path for us all.

Atif Khan is the Sector Manager for Digital and IT BTECs and Apprenticeships at Pearson. He's worked in vocational education for 20 years, and in recent years has specialised in the digital sector, particularly in understanding where the existing tech industry is heading. Before joining Pearson, Atif worked as a Digital Skills and Talent Management Consultant working with the biggest tech employers in the UK. His clients included Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Metro Bank, SAP, Lloyds and other multinational organisations.

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