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Addressing the UK’s digital skills gap

May 9, 2022

The ever-increasing digital skills gap is problematic we need to find fresh solutions in the current economic climate

For quite some time, UK businesses have faced a digital skills shortage. Almost a fifth of British companies have a skills vacancy in the digital, culture, media and sports sector, according to a recent government study – in which 14.1% of businesses reported a lack of digital know-how.

The ongoing shortage is particularly challenging following more than two years of the pandemic. Microsoft research (2020) found that 80% of UK leaders believe investment in digital skills will be important to the nation’s economic recovery post-COVID-19, with 78% also viewing a large pool of digital talent as key to driving UK competitiveness.

What is more, a perfect storm of rising inflation, energy price hikes and a general cost of living crisis has introduced additional challenges. According to The Chartered Management Institute (CMI), 94% of organisations with skills gap vacancies report that these gaps have had a negative impact on business performance – it’s clear that employers simply cannot afford a workforce that isn’t fully prepared in the current economic climate.

Digital proficiency first

The CMI also highlighted that while the majority of employers value digital skills, when it comes to employability, a staggering 80% of them believe that graduates do not arrive fully equipped with the skills they need to be work ready. Whatever their chosen sector or career, employers now expect graduates to demonstrate good digital proficiency.

This is important when you consider that most entry level recruits will now be working in hybrid or entirely remote environments. However, the BBC reports that the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE level has fallen by 40% since 2015, despite soaring demand for AI, cloud and robotics skills and opportunities in these fields.

The Learning & Work Institute discovered the majority of young people expect employers to invest in digital skills training on the job, yet only half of employers are able to provide this. Employability skills – encompassing digital as well as the soft skills traditionally valued by employers – should therefore be baked into academic programmes, ensuring that graduates enter the world of work equipped not only to meet their new employers’ expectations, but with the ability to demonstrate these skills at the outset.

Hybrid working means upskilling

A new set of skills is clearly needed for working in a digital environment, including the ability to establish bonds with colleagues remotely and to work effectively independently, given that regular face-to-face time with co-workers may not always be possible. Honing workplace productivity and collaboration skills can also become a springboard to learning about more advanced technologies, such as cloud, data, and AI. More businesses are recognising the potential of these technologies to boost profitability, efficiency and deliver a competitive edge. In addition to offering comprehensive training to graduates and new recruits, there is also enormous potential for businesses to upskill their existing workforce in emerging technologies.

The skills gap is only going to become more apparent in the new hybrid world of work. With the estimate that the UK will need three million jobs requiring digital skills by 2025, it is clear that more needs to be done to bridge the gap.