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Smashing Britain’s digital skills bottleneck: The business questions, risks and solutions

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The UK’s digital skills gap has been well documented. Virgin’s billionaire boss Richard Branson voiced his thoughts on the matter in March 2015 and said, in a nutshell, children are the future.

“Britain is a digital leader, however our businesses will fall behind if students leave school without vital digital skills,” he opined.

Later in the year, the Tech Partnership found that British businesses require 134,000 tech specialists each year, but 42 per cent of leaders from companies in all sectors admitted they feel it’s getting harder to fill the posts.

As a result, it was noted that there is a “need for businesses in all sectors to embrace tech apprenticeships as a key weapon in the battle for faster business growth”.

With 2016 upon us, Ed Vaizey, minister of state at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, commissioned research consultancy Ecorys UK to create a report for his divisions to detail the ongoing problem Britain faces and what can be done to solve it.

The idea is to use the findings to help shape the digital agenda on the government’s productivity plan, which was revealed in July 2015.

Ecorys asked: What is the current demand for digital skills across the economy and what are the different types of digital skills requirements?

It turns out there are three main categories for requirements:

(1) Basic digital literacy

These skills are required to carry out tasks such as internet searches, use of communications apps and knowledge of cyber security. They’re described as a way of “empowering individuals”.

(2) Digital skills for the general workforce

These skills include all of category one and the additional skills needed in the workplace, such as usage of software developed by IT specialists. The report recognised the skills needed will vary based on the company’s industry, but stressed there will be minimum requirements to process information that is relevant for all sectors. This category is with a view of “upskilling for the digital economy”.

(3) Digital skills for ICT professions

The final category, this includes understanding of both one and two, and is defined as the skills for “digitally innovative and creative individuals, organisations and businesses”.

Essentially, these are skills that will not just require knowledge of using software, they are linked to the development of new tech. The study said these are of key importance if the UK is to “compare favourably with other nations in relation to ICT investment and utilisation”.

Defining the trends and needs was achieved by speaking with various “strategic stakeholders”, which included employer-centric partnerships, skills agencies and government bodies.

Continue reading on the next page for the five key risks if the skills gap continues, and the opportunities and recommendations that come with smashing the bottleneck.


Image: Shutterstock

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