London’s big focus on digital skills

Chief Digital Officer for London
7 min readJul 25, 2018

Doniya Soni, City Hall’s Principal Policy Officer for Digital and STEM Skills outlines the Mayor’s ambition for a digital pipeline in London.

Digital skills and talent are at the heart of London’s success. Recently London was crowned the world’s most popular city for work, beating New York, Berlin and Barcelona as the destination of choice. However, to ensure that we remain competitive, especially in light of Brexit and the growing digital skills gap, an adult education and training strategy is key to making sure London remains on top.

From the start, Mayor Sadiq Khan has made it clear that he is passionate about ensuring Londoners have the skills, education and training they need to thrive in our great city.

That’s why earlier this month, he was the first Mayor of London to produce a stand-alone Skills and Adult Education Strategy. The strategy looks ahead to the devolution of more than £300m in skills funding to be invested annually in London’s learners studying at a range of settings across our capital city.

Devolution of these funds will put London firmly in the driving seat in terms of supporting adults aged 19+ to access the skills they need to thrive. It will enable us to invest in a range of critical skills, including digital, literacy, numeracy, and English for speakers of other languages. It will enable City Hall to ensure that funding is better focused on meeting need and achieving outcomes for Londoners and London’s businesses, delivering social as well as economic impact.

The focus of the strategy is on where the Mayor has the greatest levers, mainly:

• Technical and vocational education

• Adult education and employment support

• Capital investment in London’s skill’s providers

But it also considers pathways from schools into further and higher learning, work, and an all-age careers offer.

On that last point, City Hall recognises the key role that lifelong learning plays in enabling Londoners to adapt and succeed in a rapidly changing economy. This is increasingly important as technological change disrupts traditional job roles and opens up new opportunities – especially in the capital.

In many cases, this will result in the greater need for upskilling and reskilling, and providing all Londoners with the vital digital skills they require to embrace the changing nature of the workforce.

Digital skills are no longer just important for London’s growing tech sector, they are increasingly essential for every role in a modern economy. A study conducted by the EU demonstrated the proliferation of technology in jobs across the continent. 93% of European workplaces use desktop computers, 94% use broadband technology to access the internet, 75% use portable computers and 63% other portable devices. 22% use intranet platform, 8% automated machine or tools or 5% programmable robots. Larger workplaces report a higher use of digital technologies than smaller ones.

Most jobs require basic digital skills. Basic digital skills include being able to communicate via email or social media, to create and edit documents digital documents and to search for information, or to protect personal information online. In the UK, a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee revealed that almost 90% of new jobs require digital skills to some degree, with 72% of employers stating they are unwilling to interview candidates who do not have basic IT skills. Research by Lloyds Bank in 2018 revealed that 6% of Londoners do not have any basic digital skills, and 11% of the working population in the capital do not have full basic digital skills.

In the tech sector, there is a lack of equal opportunities for all. Only 19% of the digital tech workforce is female, and Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities (BAME) account for 15% of digital tech workers. This flags a diversity dilemma in tech, reinforcing the current groundswell of industry activity to address inclusion and equality in digital companies.

This demonstrates that there is a growing and prolific digital skills gap but also a lack of opportunity for individuals from diverse backgrounds to enter the highly paid and productive industry. Jobs requiring digital tech skills command higher salaries, on average, £42,578 compared to £32,477 per year for non-digital jobs, while digitally enabled jobs – those requiring only some engagement with digital tech – bring in £35,227.

The Mayor recognises the importance of digital skills, including the evident diversity gap in the sector, and as such has developed a number of programmes which will give Londoners a boost in this exponential growth area.

The programmes are:

• The Mayor’s Digital Talent Programme

• Digital Skills Entitlement in the Adult Education Budget

• European Social Fund Initiatives

• Smarter London Together Roadmap

Mayor’s Digital Talent Programme

The Mayor’s Digital Talent programme is a £7m investment to help young people get the skills to fill digital, creative and technology occupations across London’s economy. The programme is aimed at Londoners aged 16 to 24, particularly young women and young Londoners from diverse ethnic and disadvantaged backgrounds to enter digital occupations.

The programme will work by:

• joining up education and training with industry

• improving teaching in this area

• establishing new courses and progression to apprenticeships

• inspiring young people to gain the digital skills they need for success

The Digital Talent Programme was officially launched in February 2018. It consists of six strands, ranging from bootcamps to CPD packages for educations to improve their digital skills and confidence. Currently we are running six coding bootcamps across London, opening doors to those who would not have had the opportunity to enter the tech sector.

We have a number of exciting strands upcoming, including a higher level digital skills programme which aims to connect SMEs and training providers to create a true tech talent pipeline, and a young entrepreneurs project to give a kick start to those developing a digital, tech or creative startup.

Adult Education Budget

From next year, City Hall will be in the driving seat and responsible for the City’s Adult Education Budget. Digital has been identified as a top priority, and from 2020, every Londoner who is eligible will be entitled to receive free basic digital skills training up to Level 2.

City Hall has been working closely with industry and the Department for Education to develop new standards in basic digital skills, using the Essential Digital Skills Framework which was created in consultation with industry, training providers and learners.

European Social Fund

London has access to unallocated European Social Fund (ESF) to use on priority areas which most add value to existing national and regional programmes. As such, City Hall has developed proposals to reflect areas where there are currently gaps in provision or little support available, for example parents seeking to return to work, ex-offenders and homeless people.

Currently, we are proposing skills and employment programmes in five overarching priority areas:

• Occupational skills programmes focused on unemployed adults and low paid, disadvantaged adults;

• Support for learners learning English as another language (ESOL);

• Parental employment and enterprise programme;

• Improving participation in English and Maths;

• Targeted employment support for those with complex barriers.

Out of these five programmes, digital skills play a key role in three, either underpinning the initiatives (employability, and in work progression), or forming as a sector for entry (low paid, occupational skills). A pilot programme is also being developed to integrate ESOL training with basic digital skills, to allow Londoners who face language barriers to also gain vital digital skills to help with confidence, employability and social integration.

Smarter London Together Roadmap

During London Tech Week, the Mayor launched Smarter London Together – his roadmap to make London ‘the smartest city in the world’. To accomplish this, there are five mission: design, data sharing, connectivity, skills, and collaboration.

The roadmap is intended to be a flexible digital masterplan for the city, setting out how we want to collaborate with the capital’s boroughs and services. While the skills mission reiterates a lot of what has been described above, it makes another important commitment: upskilling public service digital and data leadership.

The breadth and pace of digital change means that capacity within organisations to understand, develop and implement new digital approaches is stretched. Addressing this requires leadership across London’s public services. This does not mean that leaders must be IT or data experts. But leaders that have a basic understanding will make more informed, effective decisions and make sure that their services are able to respond to how technology is changing Londoners’ life chances and expectations. City Hall will be developing a pan-London digital leadership offer in conjunction with the GDS Digital Academy and other central Government initiatives.

Next Steps

There is a lot to look forward to. City Hall is developing a full suite of programmes and activities to ensure Londoners can thrive and succeed in our great city – especially as the landscape shifts and we are moving towards an increasingly digitised economy.

However there is always more that can be done. The Mayor has recently called for further skills devolution, including unspent apprenticeship levy funds in London to be ring-fenced and devolved to spend on meeting the capital’s complex skills needs. He has also called for greater powers and responsibilities over post-16 skills, including 16–19 funding, careers services and replacement EU funds.

In the meantime, City Hall will continue to develop digital skills programmes to create a diverse, unique tech talent pipeline in London. Our investment in reskilling and upskilling makes a real different in people’s lives – the lives of Londoners.



Chief Digital Officer for London

@LDN_CDO & Data for London Board @MayorofLondon using data to support a fairer, safer and greener city for everyone​