The UK's Digital Skills Gap

Posted by Liam McNally |   26th April 2017

The UK's Digital Skills Gap

Over the last few years, the UK’s digital skills crisis has been highlighted by increasing levels of media coverage. The topic is also a political one, with MPs warning the nation in 2016 about the risks posed to our country’s productivity and ability to compete by the digital talent gap.

The future is digital…

Put simply, the future of UK business is digital. With technology becoming more prominent in our lifestyles and people evermore fixated by their mobile devices, it stands to reason that British businesses need to implement a digital strategy to ensure their survival.

There are multiple reasons why a business should have a digital presence, from building brand awareness to operating an ecommerce website for online sales. Whatever the reasons might be for individual UK businesses, they all need employees that can excel in the relevant areas if they’re to take full advantage of the digital environment.

…But there’s a problem

According to figures published by BBC News in 2016, around 12.6 million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills and 5.8 million have never used the internet at all. IT teaching in our schools is grossly inadequate, with 22% of computer equipment condemned as ‘ineffective’ and just 35% of Computer Science teachers holding a relevant qualification.

The same report also states that the UK urgently needs another 745,000 workers with digital skills and the current talent gap is costing our economy around £63 billion every year in lost revenue. The UK might be the world’s second most advanced digital nation after the USA, but the onus is on our businesses to keep up with the latest technological advancements and they’re currently failing to do so.

So what can our businesses do to bridge the digital skills gap and bring their workforces up to speed?

The answer? Apprenticeships and digital training.

To help businesses stay up to date, we need to engage the younger generation and get them passionate about digital. With digital growth on track, an estimated £58 billion can be added to UK GDP by 2020. It’s time for our companies to invest in a new generation of digital talent.

Apprenticeships have always been on the radar for UK businesses, complete with countless myths around the financial side in particular. But the real question is: why wouldn’t you want to invest in an apprentice? As with any investment, what you get out of it will be in direct proportion to how much it means to you. Yes, an apprenticeship is an investment of money, time and resources, but it’s also a two way street. The learner must want to learn and the teacher must want to teach. There’s no other way about it.

If we want employees to have the skills our businesses need, then we must teach them these skills and help them understand their importance. After all, with 90% of jobs now requiring digital skills to some extent, it’s hardly fair for businesses to complain about a lack of knowledge in their workforce if they’re not prepared to help people learn.

An apprenticeship can have huge benefits for businesses. These include:

  • Developing industry specific skills: Employers like you have designed apprenticeships that teach the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are relevant to your industry sector and meet its required standards.
  • Creating expertise in niche areas: An apprenticeship is a cost effective way to train your employees to undertake specific roles in your business.
  • Increasing staff satisfaction and retention: Apprenticeships provide your employees with personal and career development opportunities that may not otherwise be available. These employees are likely to feel more fulfilled and engaged with your business and therefore less likely to leave.
  • Knowledge sharing: Once trained, your apprentices can pass their skills onto their colleagues, cascading valuable knowledge throughout your workforce at low cost.
  • Return on investment: An employee who completes an apprenticeship and is retained in the long term will increase business productivity by an average of £214 per week (Source: CEBR, 2015).