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UK government pledges £1m to help underrepresented talent enter the digital industry

The government wants more people from these groups to take up marketing roles / Unsplash

The UK government has pledged £1m to boost the diversity of the digital and tech industries, saying it wants to help people from underrepresented groups make a start in these sectors.

Women, those with disabilities, people from minority backgrounds and individuals living in lower socioeconomic areas will be the focus of the initiative.

The government wants more people from these groups to enter marketing roles as well as fill data analyst, cyber security and programming positions.

Dubbed the 'digital skills innovation fund', the announcement comes hand-in-hand with a further £400,000 investment to equip older and disabled people with "life-changing" digital skills.

The Department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) is inviting local enterprise partnerships (voluntary collaborations between councils and businesses) and local authorities to bid for money from the pot to funnel into schemes that are focused on helping people take up digital roles.

Applications for the fund will open on 27 August and bids need to be received by DCMS by 28 October 2018. Grants of between £200,000 and £500,000 will be on offer.

Attracting more diverse talent

The move follows on from a recent House of Lords consultation into the future of the UK advertising industry which recommended that the industry should develop 'CV-blind' recruitment processes, and encourage outreach and mentoring programmes in order to attract and retain more diverse talent.

DCMS said its research found that the UK's tech workforce was made of up just 17% of women, who were also underrepresented in the uptake of digital qualifications. Unemployed adults, it said, were 5% more likely to lack "basic digital skills" when compared to the national average.

Tech giants like Apple and Facebook – which has recently announced plans to double the amount of space it occupies in London – have previously come under fire for failing to lead the way in this space; making underwhelming progress when it comes to workplace diversity.

The latter's 2018 diversity and inclusion report found that globally the number of women employed by Facebook had risen by just 1% over the past year to 36%.

Women in technical roles increased from 15% to 22%.

The number of black employees rose from only 3% in 2017 to 4%, however the percentage of those in tech or engineering roles remained flat at 1%. Hispanic staff remained unchanged at 5%, in tech positions Hispanic individuals accounted for 3% of the workforce – showing no progress from Facebook on 2017.

Overall, close to 47% of Facebook's global staff was reported as white while Asian employees made up around 41%.

Maintaining the UK's digital position

A new £400,000 'digital inclusion fund' has also been launched by the government to help older and disabled people acquire digital skills.

Projects are expected to include the teaching of "basic skills" like booking GP appointments online, using apps to communicate with friends and family, and "making the most of search engines".

The funds fall in like with the government's wider Digital Strategy.

As part of this, DCMS has already pledged a further £170,000 to the 'tech talent charter' which is promoting diversity through recruitment and retention policies that support women in digital and tech roles.

Minister for digital, Margot James, said: "It is crucial everyone is able to take advantage of digital technology, whether it is to learn how to use the internet or develop the skills to work in a tech role.

"If we want to maintain our position as a world-leading digital economy we need to work with industry, local authorities and the voluntary sector to develop solutions so no-one is left behind."

DCMS recently appointed a new secretary of state in the form of Jeremy Wright. However, sceptics immediately questioned his suitability for the job, given that his online presence is almost non-existent.

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