PUBLIC’s Caroline Makepeace responds to Sadiq Khan’s Digital Diversity Scheme, underlining the need to create a diverse tech sector in conjunction with plugging the digital skills gap. 

New digital skills funding for London

Last week, Sadiq Khan announced a new £7 million scheme to build London’s next generation of digital skills, with a particular focus on bringing underrepresented groups into the tech industry. The funding will create training opportunities for up to 1,500 young Londoners, and help them into digital jobs.
It’s the latest in a hearty list of initiatives out there, designed to build digital skills in the UK. That said, every little helps and it’s good to see that the GLA are working with existing high calibre providers rather than re-creating content from scratch.

Digital skills shortage in the UK

The UK certainly needs to tackle its chronic shortage of digital skills somehow. Businesses from all industries report that the skills in their companies are simply not keeping up with the needs of today’s market.
Three out of four businesses in the UK report a lack of digital skills amongst their employees, according to a survey of 1,400 companies by the British Chamber of Commerce.
In the tech sector itself, 50% of businesses report a shortage in highly skilled employees, and this is the biggest issue facing tech companies, according to Tech Nation’s 2017 survey.
Needless to say, uncertainty about the impact of Brexit on digital talent within the UK only underscores why schemes such as the Mayor’s Digital Talent fund are needed, if arguably already overdue.

Diversity as a business need

It’s also good to see that the Mayor has focused on encouraging a diverse tech sector.
In over 50% of tech businesses, men outnumber women by 3:1 (Tech Nation 2017). Simply by widening the pool of potential talent to include digitally skilled women will contribute to plugging the skills gap faced by today’s businesses. So, there’s a benefit to the size of the digital talent pool from encouraging diversity.

There’s also a benefit to the quality of the UK’s digital output: diverse workforces are better able to understand the varied needs of their users. In an era of ever-more personalised services, companies cannot expect to ignore this and remain competitive.

Research such as last month’s report from INvolve and the Centre for Economics and Business Research, has reinforced the evidence of the positive correlation between diversity in the workplace and business performance.  
And let’s not forget what can happen when we overlook the diversity of our users. The familiar tales of HP’s webcam that failed to recognise black people (2009) and Google Photos’ facial recognition that labelled black people as gorillas (2015), should serve as a warning to us all.

Next step: an inclusive workplace

Bringing talent from a diverse set of backgrounds is the first hurdle. But it’s by no means the end of the race.
Whilst tomorrow’s diverse talent pool is learning its skills, those of us already in business should be focusing on building an inclusive workplace: an environment which gets the best out of everybody in the team, regardless of their differences.
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