How to tackle the digital skills gap.

Significant technological advancements and societal shifts occur within a blink of an eye. What felt like overnight saw the world shift from in-person to virtual to adapt to the global pandemic and our new way of life. But was it so easy for all of us? Do some of us take for granted our technological abilities as the norm when maybe there is a large percentage of us who are at risk of falling behind if action isn’t taken?

According to a recent study, this is the stark reality for many, with 11.8 million people of working age still without the Essential Digital Skills for life and work. To put this into perspective, this number is higher than the population of Scotland and Ireland combined. Shockingly, this represents over one third of the UK workforce, and despite technology rooted into our lives, the way we work and communicate, not everyone is picking up the digital basics to succeed. Below we look at how digital skills have contributed to the economy, why we are facing a shortage, and how it can be addressed.

The UK economy and digital skills

Digital skills were initially recognised in the technology sector – a sector that in 2020 represented 7.7% of the UK economy and was responsible for contributing £149bn, growing at a rate of six times faster than the rest. It is becoming increasingly evident that the digital economy and the UK economy go hand in with digital skills being the driver for success. So much so that they make up two-thirds of UK occupations, accounting for 82% of online job vacancies. However, many businesses are still struggling to recruit people with the digital skills they need. So where are we going wrong? Identifying the root of the shortage

Firstly, traditional modes of education are failing to keep up with labour market demands and not aligning with the skills required by employers. At present, schools are teaching IT courses but there is a need for moving beyond basic digital skills to more advanced ones. Introducing pupils to concepts of data analysis and computer science is one way to align industries and the education system. Schools can also look at embedding new emerging technologies such as AI across all subjects so that they are able to keep up with the rapidly growing tech sector. This mismatch in the education system has created an imbalance of demand for digitally savvy workers and a lack of supply of available talent.

Another threat to the growing digital skills gap is the emergence of those in the workforce who are trapped in the ‘frozen middle’ – the part of the workforce with 3 or more years of experience but whose skills are not up to speed with rapidly evolving technologies. They sit between digital exclusion and advanced digital skills and if action isn’t taken, millions are at risk of becoming redundant, with valuable skill and experience being wasted instead of embraced. According to a recent study, the benefits of upskilling our workforce could be huge, with a potential £3.2 billion uplift to the UK economy, proving that this could not only transform careers but the nation as a whole. So, who is responsible for unlocking the potential of these professionals?

The importance of diversity in closing the digital skills gap

Employers play a key role in closing the digital skills gap – they need to understand the importance of recruiting and cultivating good talent from non-traditional backgrounds. Typically, employers rely on graduates to help fill talent gaps, however, colleges and universities cannot produce enough graduates with the skills required to meet industry needs. Even requiring a college degree limits the available pool of candidates, as according to a McKinsey report, people who enter tech roles expand their skillset by more than 50%.

Going forward, employers will need to embrace a diversity of backgrounds. Candidates should be assessed not just on their knowledge and skills but also their potential to learn new skills. We can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s mindset.

We need fresh ideas, which can only come from tapping into a diverse pool of people who bring with them innovative ways of looking at solving the problem.

Next employers will have to focus on upskilling their workforce. This will come in the form of on-the-job training and online learning platforms which will allow employees to expand their skillset and keep up to date with technological trends. Amongst adults, this requirement is understood – with nearly six in ten (57%) of adults claiming that the easiest way to learn digital skills is through work. However, in 2020 only 20% of adults reported receiving any digital skills training in the workplace. At a time when AI, analytics, and automation are disrupting industries and transforming businesses – it is imperative for employers to equip employees with the relevant skills to build a future-ready workforce and to also remain competitive.

The next steps

With reports claiming that in less than 8 years, basic digital capability is set to become the UK’s biggest skills gap – the time to act is now. Employers need to expand their talent pools to attract a diversity of workers regardless of background, as well as upskill their existing workers. At Kubrick, we’ve launched Kubrick Advanced, our unique inhouse project team who provide critical leadership, technical expertise, and project management for our consultants. Kubrick Advanced also provides opportunities for individuals with 5-10 years’ work experience to retrain and enter the industry. We are committed to encouraging continual development and upskilling opportunities to establish our consultants and other candidates as tomorrow’s digital leaders and urge the wider industry to do the same.