The Digital Skills Gap – Don’t Mind the Gap, Bridge It

bridging the gap in digital skills

We’re surrounded by technology; immersed in it so completely that most of us barely even realise it’s there (although we certainly notice when it’s not).  Yet, it seems that despite our growing dependence on technology, it’s not as all-encompassing as we might believe, in fact a recent report by charitable organisation Go.On found that 23% of adults in the UK aren’t competent in basic digital skills; these are defined as things like sending digital messages, confidently navigating websites, applying for jobs online and using online shopping sites, and it’s not just the retired generation that are struggling.  As may be expected the report shows that those aged 65+ have the lowest level of digital literacy, however there is also a significant proportion of younger adults who have very limited understanding of digital skills, including a small but distinct number of 16-30 year olds.  This may not have a huge impact on a personal level, but the implications for business are considerable.  According to the research, the skills level starts to drop significantly for those aged 45+ and considering the average age of retirement at present is 66, this leaves a potential 20 year divide where individuals may be in employment in a digitally-focussed workplace without having the necessary skills to thrive.  This lack of skills in such a large percentage of the population means that businesses are facing a serious gap between what they need, and what their workers can provide. 

bright futureThe future’s bright – the present’s not

Going forward this issue will certainly lessen, with the latest generation being brought up on technology, there is likely to be little problem in meeting the demand as time progresses.  However that does little good for the present generation of workers who face challenges finding work due to lack of skills, and employers that are struggling to embed technology into their workplace to push their business forward.  But this isn’t just bad for individuals and organisations; it’s also bad for the wider UK economy with estimates suggesting that this specific skills gap is costing £10 billion in unfilled vacancies, and experts suggesting it will also continue to inhibit economic growth going forward.

It’s not too late

The present picture could be perceived as doom and gloom, but there is still hope for change, and even at present the majority of the UK’s workforce are digitally ‘switched on’, thus while steps do still need to be taken to improve the situation, it’s not all bad and it’s certainly not too late. 

That being said there are several important issues that need to be considered in order to help the UK’s workforce feel comfortable in the digital age and the most important is to raise awareness of the issue.  Until people are aware there’s a problem, nothing can be done to address it.  This is something that needs collaborative efforts from businesses, the government and educational facilities.  Thus one of the most important aspects is not only highlighting the general issue, but going into specifics.  In order to ensure they are able to employ the most appropriate people, businesses need to make it clear what skills they are looking for and at what level. 

This then leads to the second most important element; delivering the right training.  Once the skills gap has been defined and identified, organisations then need to work in partnership with the government, and local education institutes to help establish what form of training needs to be implemented to ensure that people are supported in developing these skills.  But it also needs to be an on-going process within the workplace as well, especially as many of the people who need this support may already be employed in a role.  By offering on the job training as well as helping improve access to external courses, businesses can be fully assured that their staff are being trained in the specific skills they need to excel in their role and consequently help develop the business. 

The skills gap is undeniably a cause for concern, but it doesn’t need to be a big one.  It is one that can and should be addressed; it will certainly require effort and input from all relevant parties, but considering the potential benefits it will have for all involved it is certainly worth investing the time, effort and money into getting it right. 

If you enjoyed this post, issue 7 of Enhance magazine asks if a lack of confidence in technology is holding back learning and development.