Education Secretary addresses London Tech Week

Gillian Keegan discusses the importance of digital skills and artificial intelligence at London Tech Week
 The Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP

Good morning,

I’d like to start by wishing London Tech Week a happy 10th birthday. So, 10 years, an awful lot happens in tech in 10 years, even in 2 years…

10 years ago, for instance, Goldsmiths, University of London had just published a study that said 1 in 5 Brits were so worried about privacy that they wanted to ban Google’s new wearable tech Google Glass.

Fast forward to the present day, we seem to have got over somewhat our reservations about sharing and tracking data, even if we didn’t all get behind Google Glass.

Last year the market for wearable tech was worth around $61billion and is expected to grow 15% a year between now and 2030.

But, as you know, the tech revolution isn’t just helping us to track our daily steps - it’s transformed every aspect of the way we live and the way we work.

Take farming – it’s hardly the first industry you think of when you think of tech, but this week I was learning about how farmers are now using satellite imaging to analyse crop quality, and data modelling to predict when to move their livestock from one field to another to get the best grazing. Another example is medicine, where simulations in interactive wards help train the nurses and doctors of tomorrow. The speed, cost and increasingly ubiquitous nature of tech is extraordinary.

I recently visited City of Liverpool College, where they have a mind-blowing state-of-the-art Mo-Cap or motion capture suite which is used to develop the next generation of games and animated films as well as many other utilities across business.

When Walt Disney was creating animations in the 1930s, every second of film involved 20-30 drawings. The speed at which Mo-Cap allows current animators to produce content is breath-taking.

Tech is reaching further and deeper than ever before.

But if we are to harness its potential, our workforce has to be flexible and ready. Upskilling so that we can use tech to its full potential is one of the biggest challenges we face if we are to keep our economy growing and competitive in a global context.

Artificial intelligence is transforming the world around us and will help grow the economy. The workforces that are best equipped in AI with the skills they need will be the ones that ride the wave. We must make sure education is not left behind.

For that potential to be realised, we need to understand the opportunities, as well as the real risks new technology brings.

That’s why we want to kick-start a conversation with experts from across education and technology to hear their views and learn from their experiences.

From today we are opening a call for evidence, seeking the views and experiences of business leaders like you on the use of generative artificial intelligence. The scope of this review includes Large Language Models such as ChatGPT, Google Bard and others. We are also seeking views on the benefits and concerns around its use in education.

And this will help us make the right decisions to get the best out of generative AI in a safe and secure way. So, I ask you, please, get involved with this conversation.

Your experience and insights are essential to our mission to create an agile and responsive skills system, which delivers the skills needed to support a world-class workforce and drive economic growth.

The UK is already a world leader in technology with the largest tech sector in Europe and the third largest in the world. We have a focus on the key growth sectors of digital, green industries, life sciences, advanced manufacturing, and creative industries, which is where we really excel. How are we going to make sure we stay ahead of the curve and are not playing catch-up? That will be the challenge for everyone in this room.

In March this year, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology published a framework that sets out our approach to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030.

We want to make sure there are more opportunities for people to enter the science and technology workforce.

One of the reasons I went back to study in my 40s was because there’d been a digital tech revolution and I wanted to understand how to deal with it. Suddenly harvesting data about your customers was way more valuable than the actual product or service you were selling. I needed to take the time to understand this change and I spent a year at London Business School to upskill myself.

For this reason, IT technicians and data scientists are among the professions that are going to be in very high demand, and we have already started to expand routes to these careers by investing in education at all levels to meet the need for these skills.

Take T levels for example, T standing for tech. Thanks to our close relationship with industry, young people now have far more options to get further qualifications or into actual jobs.

Yandiya Technologies for example, are among our T level flagbearers. They make sustainable heating solutions. They take T Level students on industry placements, 45-days, and they have done that for the past two years. They now have five apprentices, two of them purely as a result of these T Levels programmes. They are using T levels to make sure they get the pick of the crop. And many smart employers will do the same.

But getting the skills that lead to great jobs isn’t just for young people. There is already a shortage of people who are coming into computing professions and this gap will only get bigger.

Thanks to a skills bootcamp in coding, Dan Watson was able to upskill from a career as personal trainer to one as a digital project manager for tech company Wise. He said the experience was ‘priceless’ and has enabled him to future-proof his career.

We have bootcamps all across the country in many different areas, including digital, which is the most popular bootcamp.

Let’s not forget that worldwide there’s a massive need for more software engineers… 40 million of them. That’s equal to the entire population of Poland.

If you think this sounds alarming, by 2030 this gap is expected to reach 85 million - bigger than Germany’s current population.

Although AI will also have an impact on these numbers.

This is why we have created the Digital and Computing Skills Education Taskforce. Its role will be to spot what computing and digital skills are needed for the economy, where the gaps are now, and what they’re likely to be in the future and how technology may change these.

Most importantly the taskforce will make it easier for students to choose computing and digital pathways at school, colleges, Institutes of Technology and universities and we have invested over £100 million in the National Centre for Computing Education.

To navigate these changes, we are determined to ensure that education and business work really closely together. The taskforce will call on a number of industry experts, from cyber security, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and big data.

We have 12 Institutes of Technology across the country today with nine more in the pipeline. They are currently working with over a 100 employer partners, including world-leading businesses such as Microsoft, Nissan, Bosch, Babcock, Fujitsu, Siemens and many, many more. This number will continue to grow, ensuring we deliver the STEM skills that the industry needs – now and for the future. We’ve also made it easier for employers to recruit apprentices, as well as introducing a new Level 7, a masters level Apprenticeship Standard in AI and data science.

I’ve already mentioned T Levels and we’re rolling out more of them including additional digital routes. Eleven T Levels are now available in STEM subjects, including Digital Business Services, which includes specialist content on data analysis.

Digital skills matter. As tech accelerates, they’re likely to become as important to a person’s employability as English and maths, eventually being on a level pegging with those two core subjects. This will be the cornerstone of how we prepare people for the world of work.

As part of these reforms, from September students will be able to study our new Digital Functional Skills Qualifications. These will provide a benchmark of digital skills for employers and will give everybody the opportunity to get the full range of essential digital skills they need to participate actively in life, work and society.

Whether you’re a business or an investor, I want to assure you our workforce will be ready for the future, whatever that future looks like.

Tim Berners Lee once said “The web as I envisage it? We have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.”

For me, that is a challenge but an exciting one.

None of us has a crystal ball but one thing I can promise you, we won’t be settling for anything less than a world-leading role.

Last night it was announced that a French start-up developing generative AI products has raised a record-breaking seed funding of over 100 million euros. The start-up is only one month old.

We have innovation woven into our DNA in this country, but in the global tech race, we can’t afford to slow down.  We must work together now to ensure that UK companies and organisations are at the forefront of AI and technological developments, and in the best possible position to take advantage of the transformative opportunities that these generate.

The Department for Education is ready for that challenge, and we will be there as you face that challenge too.

Thank you very much.

Department for Education
The Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP