Opinion

Apprenticeships: The digital skills gap is costing businesses

4 min read

12 October 2016

Despite a skills gap, there is little doubt that the future of business is digital. Indeed, you’re probably reading this on your tablet or mobile phone.

As a result, for businesses, getting digital has to be part of the strategy going forward. Whatever the objectives of the business are, without a digital strategy, there may not be a rosy future – especially if the skills gap persists.

Whether it’s getting online search right, so your company or products come up, or whether your website can handle ecommerce smoothly, the ability to stand out could make or break a company.

Don’t get seen at the top of a web search? Don’t get seen. Have a website that doesn’t let people buy quickly and efficiently, products won’t get bought.

It’s that simple.

But in June of this year, the CBI posted a podcast to its site that specifically talks about how “the digital skills gap is becoming an increasingly pressing issue”.

Also in June, Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee put together a report that called on the government to look seriously at the digital skills gap, noting that “12.6 million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills; 5.8 million people have never used the internet” and “this digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63bn a year in lost GDP”.

£63bn. A year. That’s what the skills gap is costing us.

So where are the people with the digital skills? Where are the developers of the future? Where are the ones who will lead the digital way? Do businesses really get digital? Why is there this skills gap?

When people talk about apprenticeships, they more often than not talk about people who work in construction, or engineering, and sometimes they mean office staff. In a hotel, or a law firm for example.

What we simply don’t have enough of is digital apprentices. Younger people who have the skills and business sense to help deliver digital strategies for the businesses of the future.

A very quick Google search for apprenticeships Nottingham and the first page suggests roles for people wanting careers in catering, childcare, electrical engineering and fitness.

In Manchester, food sector apprenticeships appear to be common, and so is the demand for vehicle parts technicians.

In London, among the first page for ads for apprentice recruitment specialists, programmers and product developers, is one for a digital marketer.

One. But even that then talks about going out into the business world and meeting people face-to-face in a sales role.

It’s simply not good enough. And neither is this skills gap.

If Dijitul was a political organisation, I’d be putting together a manifesto based on giving young people the skills to develop digital strategies for the future.

It would look at what the apprentices need to learn, who they need to learn from, who can provide the training, which businesses are the ones who recognise the need, and what the outcomes of training need to be. Businesses and colleges and training providers need, must, work together.

For too many people, digital is about cabling, broadband, some social media updates. While this is exceptionally important, a digital strategy and ecommerce is much much more than that.

We need to equip people with digital skills. And we need to do it now.

Dave Hartshorne is from digital marketing and ecommerce firm Dijitul

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