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

The five key risks

(1) A shortage of appropriate skills for digital jobs means stunted business growth, innovation and development in society.

(2) Failing to supply skills for immediate, medium and long-term demand means the UK’s ranking in IT among other major countries is declining. While the UK’s tech investment is thriving now, it could make Britain an ugly place for business.

(3) Beyond digital industries, wider economic challenges are presented as skills must improve across the whole population – if they do not, there is a risk that all industries will have a lack of competitive potential and fall behind as apps and tech evolve.

(4) Action must be taken to reskill UK workers, continuously, otherwise new and emerging sectors will be unable to exploit digital skills.

(5) Demand for skills outstripping supply means that there is an issue with filling advertised vacancies – especially for high level jobs including developers – thus employers have serious recruitment holes in their teams.

Smashing the bottleneck

According to the study, the shortage of digital skills can be linked to one in five vacancies. Some 72 per cent of large firms and 49 per cent of SMEs are suffering from the tech bottleneck.

This is, in part, due to lack of awareness – many people don’t realise the career opportunities in the digital space. The report also highlighted the ongoing barriers to women, with low female representation on computer-related courses and the industry overall.

Of course, while some companies are eagerly trying to hire, lots are to blame for “neither effectively maximising the potential of new technologies nor the talents of their employees”.

This means missed opportunities like performance not reaching its peak.
But the opportunities are there, demonstrated by a link between market competitiveness and uptake of tech in the workplace – using that combination will lead to an advantage over rivals.

Elsewhere, for the UK economy, value can be added by investing in digital skills – not just with new job roles, but by scaling the overall strategic approach to tech. This applies to SMEs and large firms alike.

The tech market accounts for six per cent of the UK economy and has an average GVA per person of £91,800, according to the study. And embracing the opportunities would result in a better ROI.

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The recommendations

The conclusion is that the government is accountable to provide “economic policy direction, national focus and leadership”, which will in turn help employers and educators tackle the skills gaps.

(1) Government leadership for education sector

It is said the government should set changes in place to embed digital skills in education and training. The aim is to create a range of tech specialists, digital-savvy business leaders and workers who can take on digital-centric jobs across the economy.

The report said “as a minimum, all children should leave school digitally literate” – with tech skill to be recognised alongside English and maths. Topics will include ecommerce, cyber security, mobile, apps, the Internet of Things and big data.

(2) Employers should take ownership of development

The government believes that employers should work together across networks and partnerships to raise skills and connect digital leaders in all industries. According to the report, companies should have a lead role to set minimum digital standards they believe individuals should have from education.

On the back of that, they should also keep staff training regular to stay on track with market changes, while maximising staff potential.

(3) The education sector must not sit still

Educators are advised to develop and create offerings based on the digital economy and to work within frameworks created by government departments. That means working with the stakeholders to support the demands of businesses, effectively building digital skills with “industry-relevance”.

Motivation will also be a key requirement of educators. They will need to inspire youngsters, especially females, to pursue digital careers through both apprenticeships and traditional higher education courses.

(4) Local governments must address the digital needs

Collaboration is key for this, as local partnerships must be forged to create a network of councils, colleges and businesses in order to understand the skills needs of the area.

The government must encourage the sharing of information and teamwork across the establishments. This will include initiatives to ensure more SMEs embrace online to achieve business growth while catering to customer needs.

Image: Shutterstock

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