The rapid digitisation in the UK has meant higher-than-ever demand for digital skills. In fact, some degree of digital know-how is now necessary for many aspects of daily life, from banking or getting a passport to applying for jobs and more. The changes are apparent in employment too. The UK government recently reported that over 80% of all jobs advertised require at least some digital skills.
Meanwhile, global tech company OKdo found that vacancies in the UK’s tech sector rose by 191% between 2020 and 2022. Yet, companies are finding it difficult to recruit people with the right skills. In 2021 nearly half of businesses reported struggling to fill roles that required hard data skills.
If businesses cannot keep up with digitisation, it can severely impact productivity, innovation, and growth. In a recent survey by AND Digital, 22% of employees reported that a lack of digital skills impacted their ability to hit their work targets. Analysis from Virgin Media O2 has also revealed that this shortage of digital skills is costing the UK economy £12.8 billion.
What’s causing this gap?
The digital skills gap faced by the UK has been caused by a variety of factors. One reason could simply be that the UK’s digital transformation has been developing so rapidly that skills training, or a lack thereof, hasn’t been able to keep up.
The gap also highlights socioeconomic disparities when it comes to digital skills.
The Digital Divide Report from Accenture analysed the key indicators of digital exclusion, a term used to describe the barriers that stop people from learning necessary skills. Accenture found that the groups most likely to experience digital exclusion are those over 55, those without a degree, and those from low-income households.
Other research from WorldSkills UK points towards a lack of knowledge about the career paths and job roles available as a barrier for young people. Considering that 60% of businesses believe advanced digital skills are going to become increasingly important over the next five years, it’s vital that we act now to develop digital skills and bridge the gap.
What can businesses, educators, and individuals do to bridge it?
The main way we can work to shorten the digital skills gap is through increased training, accessibility to learning resources, and by encouraging lifelong learning.
Worryingly, according to the AND Digital survey mentioned above, 58% of employees said they had received no digital training at work. It’s up to employers to remedy this by implementing training courses or sessions for employees to increase their digital knowledge. Understandably, it can sometimes be difficult for businesses to fit this into employee schedules. One way of overcoming this issue is, to begin with, a set learning objective and focus on short courses that can be done within the working day.
In the long term, it’s also a good idea to promote a culture of learning within the workplace. Knowing that their employers are invested in their skills will help employees feel supported and valued. As well as this, having a team who are continuously upskilled or reskilled will also make the business more resilient and able to adapt to technological changes in the future. One survey conducted in 2021 found that employers had seen multiple benefits from digital skills training, including higher employee satisfaction (90%), higher retention (83%), and increased productivity (88%).
In terms of education, it’s a good sign that more students than ever before are signing up for computing or computer science courses. Compared to 2021, there has been a 16% increase in applications for undergraduate computer science degrees in 2022. If we are to bridge the digital skills gap in 2023 and beyond, it’s vital that this upward trend continues and young people are encouraged to expand their digital knowledge.
Elsewhere, there needs to be a greater focus on accessibility, especially for those in disadvantaged groups who struggle more than others to gain digital skills. For many individuals and businesses, the costs associated with training courses can be a barrier to learning. The UK government has compiled a list of free digital learning resources from organisations, colleges, and universities known as The Skills Toolkit. This features courses from beginner computer essentials all the way to coding and programming.
Confidence is another major factor that can hold employees and individuals back from learning new skills. Therefore, all efforts to upskill employees, students, or other members of the public should be accompanied by mentoring and support.
In all, digital skill is a critical area of development. With the potential impact on individuals and businesses, the time is now to embrace continuous learning and encourage people to gain the skills they need. The digital skills gap has been widening for years now, and it’s going to take a joint effort from the government, educational organisations, charities, and individuals to bridge it.