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A report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills says IT specialists are "the new force" powering the UK economy, but that skill gaps remain.

The “Technology and Skills in the Digital Industries” report predicts that over the next 10 years IT specialists are "expected to turn the digital sector into a heavyweight element of the UK economy", as cybersecurity, mobile technologies, green IT and cloud computing change the way businesses and individuals use technology.

It says the digital sector will require nearly 300,000 new recruits by 2020 to maximise its full potential. New roles will be created that will require both deeper and more specialised technical IT skills, complemented by business, sales and communications skills, says the report.

But at present, a lack of specialist technical skills are hampering growth in the sector. The report says nearly one fifth of all vacancies are difficult to fill due to skills shortages, making it harder for digital companies to keep pace with technological change.

The report was written by e-skills UK and funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

Rachel Pinto, research manager at UKCES, said: “The digital sector contributes nearly £69 billion to the economy. It is also one of the most productive sectors with a growth rate since the recession three times above the average.

“But the impact of IT specialists goes much further than this - of the total 1.1 million IT specialists in the UK, just under half are employed in the digital sector, with the rest most likely to be employed in finance and professional services, manufacturing or the public sector."

Pinto said: "To make sure the digital sector really thrives, there’s a clear need for employers to take ownership of the skills agenda and play an active role in training the next generation of IT specialists."

Other key findings of the report:

  • Employment growth in the digital sector rose by an average rate of 5.5% between 2009 and 2012.
  • 89% of total employment in the sector is located in England, 7% in Scotland and 2% each in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Digital workers are amongst the most highly qualified members of the UK workforce, with around 63% having a higher education qualification in 2012.

But in 2012 computing graduates had the highest unemployment rate six months after leaving university.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills is a non-departmental public body that provides advice on skills and employment policy to the UK government and the devolved administrations.