There has been a concerted effort over the past few years to improve the digital skills of young people in the UK.
The UK will need more than three quarters of a million digitally skilled workers by 2017 to satisfy the its digital potential, according to research from 02. And if this doesn’t happen, it could cost the country as much as £2 billion a year.
Naturally, these moves should be applauded for giving children and teenagers a grounding in the skills they will need in the future.
But as well as workers, the UK also needs leaders. Hand in hand with this campaign, government and businesses should be encouraging creativity and invention at a higher level – in UK universities.
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While it will be great when children can code as seamlessly as they write their own name and addresses, the real rewards lie in the complex and difficult; the ground-breaking mathematical calculations that only the brilliant few can achieve.
This is where businesses can really help – and in doing so find their own valuable benefits too.
Take a topic that’s currently highly topical: big data. The business world talks about big data as if making it work is as easy as ABC.
However, many companies don’t have access to the high-calibre data scientists needed to spot the original and profitable ways they can analyse and use it. Or they may have the vision and be unsure how to get there.
But by taking this challenge outside of the mainstream business environment and engaging the best brains possible on the subject, they can discover the innovative and creative initiatives they need.
Bull, which is owned by IT services firm Atos, is working with data scientists from the University of Warwick’s business research unit to combine skills and resources to help increase businesses’ understanding of data integration and analysis – and to devise practical ways to exploit the results.
‘It’s a great arrangement,’ said Andrew Carr, CEO of Bull UK and Ireland. ‘We get the best minds, fresh thinking and new ideas; the students and researchers get real-life challenges and experience.’
The students also get the use of new high-performance computers. Loughborough University and the University of Leicester have joined together to create HPC Midlands, which Bull has supplied with a Linux-powered supercomputer known as HERA.
HERA 3,008 Intel processor cores, 15TB of RAM and 120TB of storage and was pre-loaded with a wide range of commercial and open-source software.
HPC Midlands is now known as a supercomputing centre of excellence and was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education award for its outstanding contribution to innovation and technology.
‘A result of these initiatives is that we are building up two related pools of expertise both in big data analysis and in supercomputing,’ said Carr. ‘Both are pushing the boundaries and bridging a gap in the UK’s development of these areas.’
Sharing computer and brainpower, and blending commercial and academic knowledge, brings benefits for all concerned.
Together with the push on teaching digital skills in schools and helping start-ups, encouraging both younger and more established businesses to collaborate with universities could give this country that extra edge it needs.