Digital skills will secure a brighter future for next generation

Growing and strengthening the economy hasn’t really featured in the General Election debate. In part this may be because on the surface the economy seems be doing fine. But if you dig a little deeper it quickly reveals a serious problem.

The problem is jobs and living standards related. Put simply, the economy is at its core unbalanced. It doesn’t create anywhere near enough of the exciting, high tech, well paid jobs the next generation needs. As a country, we simply don’t innovate or create and make enough things that we can sell around the world. This has left most regions outside of the south east poorer and unable to generate opportunities and wealth.

And this place we find ourselves in is not an accident. It is the result of several decades promoting a national strategy of unbridled and a largely unrestrained markets. It served us well, when digging us out of the 1970’s industrial crisis, but eventually the associated short-term thinking and chronic under-investment in industry, skills and infrastructure has led to an equally unsatisfactory situation of not enough high-end, high tech industries and jobs.

I remember how this focus away from manufacturing and industry impacted my education when I attended to my local comprehensive in Leeds in the 70’s. I was actively discouraged from studying practical subjects – the likes of woodwork and  technical drawing, yet engineering was clearly my passion. I was part of an engineering generation that largely saw the automation driven third industrial revolution pass us by.

A nightmare situation for me would be to see this next generation not be encouraged and given the chance to work with the technology that will define this fourth digital industrial revolution we are currently living through.

There is however a way to change this and rebuild our jobs and skills base. That is to use this fourth industrial revolution to create new industries and with that many more new high tech and well paid jobs. Through that we can again become a nation of creators and makers that sell many more goods and services around the world, bringing significant wealth into our country.

To achieve this, we need to take a very different approach. One where industry working in partnership with Government creates long term support mechanisms and policies that encourage investment in these new industries.

A fundamental part of this is to look at the skills and training of our people through a different lens.

We need to create a vision and a sense of excitement about the possibilities that exist for young people in this new digital economy. And we need up-skill workforces up and down the country so that we embrace new technologies like artificial intelligence and collaborative robots (or ‘co-bots’ machines that assist and work alongside humans). Positively embracing new technology rather than being afraid of it will be vital if we are to unlock the wealth the next generation needs.

This is going to take a massive re-think and a radical shift in economic and education policy. It requires much more investment, much better coordination and a different way of measuring the outcome of schools, colleges and universities. The future is much more about the employability of students and teaching the practical and team orientated skills needed to work in this rapidly developing new economy.

When I talk to teachers, parents and young people there is a vast void in the information available about the exciting jobs available in this new industrial revolution. So it’s not surprising that the teaching
curriculum falls well short of what is required to prepare young people for this new world of opportunities. This is so badly needed because these new exciting tech jobs will help younger people secure a home, secure a pension and improved lifestyles.

It is because of these opportunities that I am delighted to be working with a team of business leaders on an Industrial Digitalisation Review (#IDR), that aims to help bring about a positive change in how we better master the opportunities arising from this industrial revolution. A key part of that work is radically influencing education, employment and skills policy. It’s something the next Government, whoever that will be, will need to grasp as quickly as possible after June 8th.

We’d love to hear your views, whether you are involved with education, business or policy making. What can we do to embrace this technology revolution we are witnessing, harnessing it so that it becomes a generator of future opportunities and better living standards for the next generation?

To find out more about the review and give us your views please visit:

3 thoughts on “Digital skills will secure a brighter future for next generation”

  1. I strongly agree with the points made by the Author. I can very much relate to the message. Being a Chemical Engineering graduate from India and a recent Polymer Materials Science post-graduate from The University of Manchester, the difference between the subjects which are taught in our courses and the topics relevant to the industries are becoming so compelling. This has led to many engineering graduates leaving their core area of expertise to find jobs in different fields. The situation is grimmer in India, from where I received my Chemical Engineering degree. Most of my coursemates haven’t found a job related to Chemical Engineering. Since all the industrial processes have been optimized, most of the jobs we come across are somehow or other related to Computer Science, and/or subjects like E&E and mechatronics. The traditional engineering courses like Chemical, Mechanical and Electrical are somehow becoming irrelevant or their relevance is only feasible when combined to form interdisciplinary courses such as E&E and mechatronics.

  2. A vitally important message that needs to be trumpeted to schools across the land. How can Siemens and other companies work with schools to bring about this paradigm shift in education?

    The teachers currently delivering in schools are either in the main good teachers with poor knowledge and understanding of the new technologies or good technologists who are poor teachers. These mismatches are resulting in young people being turned off this area of study with the result that they don’t study the subjects required to progress in this area.

    1. Many thanks Tony for your comments. There are quite a few initiatives Siemens and other companies are involved in to help improve this. Have a look at for our contribution. The various initiatives however need much high profile and above all better coordination and we are hoping our #IDReview can help improve the situation.

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