Budget 2021: Back skills say tech industry leaders

Business chiefs and IT professionals have called for the government to underline its commitment to cyber skills, digital empowerment and support for workers to improve their IT capabilities, ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Covid-19 recovery budget

by Patrick Sullivan, Political Editor on 2 March 2021 14:24

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As Chancellor Rishi Sunak prepares to deliver a budget like no other, key figures in the technology landscape have spoken to The Commentator about their wishes and expectations around the government’s approach to embracing digital skills to turbocharge the recovery.

With the UK’s world-class vaccine programme apparently rapidly reducing both infection rates and deaths, business chiefs have called on Sunak to show support for workers, with funding for apprenticeships, digital skills training and reskilling capabilities to ensure the next generation of workers are equipped for the post-Covid economy.

Newspaper reports have suggested that the Chancellor will announce £126m funding for 40,000 new traineeships as part of a package of measures, alongside new cash incentives for firms to take on apprentices and a new programme allowing apprentices to work for a number of employers within a sector rather than stick to just one job role.

Rod Flavell, CEO of FTSE 250 tech company FDM Group told The Commentator “The pandemic sent shockwaves through the global business community, forcing many employers to scale back operations and shift to a remote working model to adhere to social distancing rules. With so many changes over the past 12 months, companies are desperate for staff who are adept in specialist disciplines such as cyber, analytics and machine learning, and it’s essential that the government works with businesses of all sizes to get many more young people specialising in STEM disciplines.”

“Now, as things in the UK get back up and running, businesses are eager to build back better and drive a major economic recovery. Digital skills sit at the very heart of this mission, enabling businesses to operate efficiently, adapt to new market conditions and transform customer services. The budget announcement provides an opportunity for the Chancellor to promote a new era of reskilling and upskilling of graduates and workers.

“It looks like there will be a focus on tech-led growth as in the most recent spending review and what we need is key policies involving plans to get young people in England into work after the disruption to their careers caused by coronavirus. It is the perfect time to encourage the youth to get excited about a new career in such an important and fast-growing area of the UK economy,” added Flavell.

Meanwhile cyber expert Edward Blake, Area VP UK&I, Absolute Software warned about the risks posed to the education sector through the rise in remote working and rapid increase in laptops and other potentially vulnerable devices. Blake said, “The education sector has been hit particularly hard during lockdown, with millions forced to teach and learn remotely, often whilst juggling family duties,” said Blake continued, “The government’s swift distribution of tens of thousands of new laptops to enable online learning for the most vulnerable is to be commended, but much more needs to be done as schools, colleges and universities begin to reopen.

“The reality is that online learning in some capacity is now here to stay and organisations need to ensure they have the necessary security systems in place to protect against outsider cyber threats. That’s why it’s vital that schools and higher education institutions recognise that each and every laptop is a potential route in for a malicious hacker. Tackling this issue means having complete visibility into the device network, so that every laptop can be properly protected with encryption technologies, as well as having the ability to track, freeze and wipe devices in the event of theft or loss,” Blake concluded.

Sridhar Iyengar, Managing Director, Europe, Zoho said,“Technology will inevitably continue to aid businesses to communicate and function successfully, with most businesses likely to adjust operations to ‘hybrid’ working, with a part-office, part-remote working model, even after a full return to office is permitted.

Iyengar continued, “Although many organisations have invested heavily in new tech since the pandemic began, many company owners still lack the right tools needed to thrive for the long term under a remote, or hybrid working business model. This will be of particular concern if the furlough scheme and other business support initiatives are removed before the economy rebounds. Therefore, the Chancellor needs to provide more detail about his plans to support UK businesses as they rebuild and regrow in the coming months.

“Digital skills are also set to play a critical role in the recovery of the economy, so areas such as recruitment, training and support initiatives are important areas for the government to acknowledge. New training schemes to help people back into work is already expected, and the budget announcement should hopefully provide enough optimism for business leaders so that they can protect jobs and prosper throughout 2021,” concluded Iyengar.

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