The digital skills gap must be closed to make smart cities a reality

Written by James Milligan on 2 November 2017 in Opinion

An investment in skills is needed to create the cities of the future, argues James Milligan of Hays Digital Technology


We’re already starting to witness plenty of examples of smart cities across the UK. Bristol recently overtook London as the UK’s top smart city, according to the UK Smart Cities Index. Glasgow is also another prime example of a city leading the way as the Glasgow Future City project will explore how open data and technology can make a real difference to the lives of those who live there. Councils are now seeing this type of project as an investment of the future, and are realising the benefits that can happen as a result. 

In order for cities to move forward, the first step is investing in the IT infrastructure which will underpin the technology. Akin to the construction trade, buildings and roads are only created with the vital infrastructure that supports them. 

With a skills gap already present amongst many IT and digital professions, the investment into smart cities of the future must be coupled with investment into skills and training. We want to excite the younger generations who are reaching key stages in their education that they will have a vital role to play in the creation of new technology, and how it will affect their day to day lives. In order to do so, we must also be open-minded about the type of talent needed. The skills gap will not improve within the sector if it is only limited to those with degrees in computer science or physics; it must extend to those studying business, or with great creative skills, for instance. 

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Ensuring we are creating a talent pool that is not biased is particularly critical too. For example, it’s no secret that IT continues to be a male-dominated space and how IT is taught during formative years in education should bear some responsibility, as too often it does little to excite, engage and enthuse children of all genders. If we don’t draw from a diverse talent pool, we won’t have the perspectives to solve problems that we aren’t able to identify.

For those already working I believe it’s the task of both employers and employees to look ahead and forecast how skills may need to adapt in light of a changing landscape. Some sectors such as construction are naturally adapting to technology which influences change by working with data, and new software which wasn’t previously available. Equally within digital marketing, while many new roles have been created for data analysis, analytics remains the biggest core skills gap across all levels. In such cases, employers need to support towards helping training, re-skilling and making sure their workforce is moving in the right direction, and equally employees should embrace opportunities to do so. 

The adaptations towards smarter cities will have a huge impact on how we live our lives and conduct our work. While the idea that we will one day be able to track and account for everything such as pollution, traffic, crime, and health is difficult to encapsulate, essentially smart technology will help connectivity across different facilities, improving the efficiency of services to seamlessly meet residents’ needs. 

Productivity and efficiency are arguably two of the largest benefits of a connected city. The UK workforce has long been keeping up with a low productivity rate and many companies are tirelessly working towards improving this. Efficiency across the board of business and personal lives can also have an impact on this as technology means time and effort can be dedicated elsewhere, leaving room for focus on tasks which require more care, attention, and specialist skills. 

Examples of this are already taking place as London creates technology for commuters to be able to track the least polluted routes to their work, ultimately benefitting their health and their efficiency as a result. Equally, with the advent of the agile-working age, smart connectivity will also help in areas where companies are managing employees globally, and remotely as work is no longer restricted to a set location or space. 

Supporting the skills and knowledge needed to create these positive changes will be pivotal in shaping the digital landscape, and if we put in the right investment now in education and re-skilling, we will certainly have smarter cities in the future. 

About the author

James Milligan is director of Hays Digital Technology 

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