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UK lags behind Europe in tech skills despite government investment



UK lags behind Europe in tech skills despite government investment

Despite hefty investments in AI and other cutting-edge fields, the UK has been ranked a lowly 25th in technical skills proficiency across Europe, according to the report.

This falls short of regional leaders like Germany (3rd), France (5th), and Spain (7th), raising concerns despite recent government efforts to boost digital skills.

Even developing economies like Brazil (19th) surpass the UK’s skillset.

“Latin America’s highest-ranked nation is Brazil (19th), with Chile (20th) also among the top 20. Latin America and the Caribbean show a strong commitment to AI readiness,” Coursera said.

Globally, the UK fared slightly better at 45th out of 109 countries. Notably, the US, another English-speaking nation heavily invested in tech, also fares poorly at 69th.

In 2022, the UK was at 38th position globally but slipped to 64th position in 2023.

Coursera’s 2024 Global Skills Report analysed data from over 148 million online learners along with other indicators.

One particular area highlighted in the report is AI upskilling. The UK saw a lower uptake (961% in year-on-year GenAI course enrolments) compared to the global average (1,060%) and the US (1,058%) in the past year.

Brazil with its impressive 1,079% rise in GenAI course enrolments, is prioritising AI skills acquisition more aggressively than the UK, the report indicates.

The UK government estimates that the AI sector already employs over 50,000 people and contributes over £3.7 billion to the economy annually, with a projected market size exceeding $1 trillion by 2035.

While AI and machine learning are gaining traction, cybersecurity skills development seems to be lagging across the continent.

The Coursera report found a 5% decline in European cybersecurity course enrollments in 2024, despite Europe being the prime target for cyberattacks.

In October last year, a report by ISC2 found that the UK faces a deepening cybersecurity skills crisis, with a record gap of 73,439 unfilled positions. That represented a worrying 29.3% increase compared to 2022, despite a record high of 367,300 people working in cybersecurity.

The UK’s information and communications sector is also grappling with a critical skills shortage. The percentage of unfilled vacancies due to a lack of qualified applicants skyrocketed from 25% in 2017 to a staggering 43% in 2022.

Government initiatives

The government has acknowledged the skills shortage and implemented various measures in recent months.

In March 2023, a £370 million plan was launched to bolster infrastructure and training in areas like AI and quantum technologies.

Most recently, March 2024 saw a £1.1 billion package unveiled to fund engineering and physical sciences PhD programmes.

Private companies are also stepping up. Microsoft pledged a multi-million pound investment in December 2023 to train over one million people in AI skills, aiming to bolster the UK’s AI sector by creating a more job-ready talent pool.

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