Industry coalition launches report on the ‘hidden middle’ holding back UK businesses and launches Playbook to help businesses identify and tackle missing essential digital skills.
A new report, launched today by FutureDotNow, the coalition of leading organisations focused on accelerating the UK’s workplace digital skills at scale, identifies the risk to UK businesses and the nation’s economy of a ‘hidden middle’: 17.1m people without the essential digital skills for work (EDS). The EDS Framework is a range of skills people need to participate in and contribute to the digital world in life and at work.
Whilst many businesses recognise the social challenge of digital exclusion and advanced digital skills opportunities, there is a hidden middle without EDS, around half the UK’s workforce. The digital skills of millions in this hidden middle, upon whom business productivity and commercial success is likely to depend, has been overlooked; only 23% of employees report having any digital skills training from employers. In fact, according to IMD World Digital Competitiveness 2020 data, the UK is ranked 41st in the world for employee training.
The scale of this upskilling challenge is significant, particularly in sectors vital to the UK: retail, services, manufacturing, construction and the public sector, but so is the opportunity. In response, FutureDotNow has launched its Playbook, to help businesses to rapidly move forward in identifying the EDS they are lacking and upskilling their people. The Playbook is free to FutureDotNow members and combines experience, techniques and top-tips from coalition members who have recognised that they must address the hidden middle.
The report articulates the commercial risks presented by this hidden middle, including negative impacts on business productivity and financial performance by slowing the adoption of digital processes, holding back businesses and reducing the UK’s global competitiveness.
Too many businesses assume their employees have the EDS for work because they can, for example, use smartphones. The need to equip the whole workforce with the basic workplace digital skills, such as accessing payslips, booking shifts and leave, avoiding social-media disasters, basic password practice, using cloud storage, analysing data, synchronising information across multiple devices and keeping viruses out of systems by identifying suspicious emails is not being addressed by most UK organisations.
FutureDotNow has been focused on the UK’s workplace digital skills crisis since 2019 after its founder and chair, Sir Peter Estlin, Lord Mayor of London from 2018 to 2019, recognised that the desired pace of workplace digitisation is unmatched by basic digital skills. Much attention has rightly been paid to social issues around digital exclusion, but little attention has been paid to the dearth of workplace essential digital skills.
Liz Williams, chief executive, FutureDotNow, said: “FutureDotNow’s report reveals a hidden middle between digital exclusion and advanced digital skills which needs addressing urgently: there’s a significant part of our workforce without the essential digital skills required for the new global digital world we’re competing in. Great businesses are underpowered like smartphones with a flat battery because their workforces lack these essential digital skills.
“FutureDotNow and its members, who are already seeing the power of working together to upskill their employees, will be able to help them take action. And our Playbook, launched today is a practical guide to identifying missing essential digital skills and how to go about upskilling employees.”
Professor Kerensa Jennings, senior adviser, Digital Impact, at FutureDotNow board member BT, said: “BT has long been driving the nation’s digital skills forward with a series of high impact programmes and campaigns. We joined FutureDotNow to share our own experience from helping millions, to collaborate with others, and to make a tangible difference to the UK’s prosperity. FutureDotNow’s aim to accelerate digital adoption across the UK’s workforces is rooted in learning from each other and sharing knowledge; at BT we connect for good, so we believe the connections between us are critical to making meaningful progress.”
Donna Catley, chief people officer, from newly joined FutureDotNow member Compass UKI, said: “Compass UK & I is investing and rolling out a new workforce management system, OurTime, for our tens of thousands of frontline colleagues to use across our 6,000 sites. OurTime is central to our productivity strategy and the provision of training and development of digital skills is critical to its success. The FutureDotNow coalition provides a fantastic platform for businesses to share best practice and learn from one another. Co-operating on essential digital skills training is very powerful, and now is the time to be doing it.”
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Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, president of techUK said: “Throughout the pandemic, we have seen an increase in people wanting and needing to acquire essential digital skills. This has created positive momentum in driving the UK’s digital adoption which we must maintain in order to address the growing mismatch in the demand and supply of digital skills in the UK. FutureDotNow’s initiative to encourage business leaders to share knowledge and skills is critical to ensure the country and our citizens are ready for what comes next.”
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