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Half of UK workforce lacks essential digital skills for work

Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft

Some 17 million people nationwide lack the essential digital skills (#EDS) for work and life.

This is according to “The hidden middle – Unlocking the essential digital skills opportunity” a report by @FutureDotNowUK, a coalition of organisations including BT, Asda, PwC and Nationwide, focusing on accelerating the UK’s workplace digital skills at scale.

  • The report suggests the challenge organisations face to reskill their workforces is significant, as only 23% of employees report having any digital skills training from employers. 
  • The research cites data from IMD world digital competitiveness 2020, where the UK ranks 41st in the world for employee training.
  • According to the report, other issues in relation to this “hidden middle” – individuals who possess very basic digital skills – include the negative impacts on business productivity and financial performance as the adoption of digital processes is slowed. 

This latest research highlights that employers will have to address the growing digital skills gap within the workforce to ensure their business is able to fully leverage every digital transformation investment that’s made.

With technologies like AI and cloud becoming as commonplace as word processing or email in the workplace, firms will need to ensure employees can use such tools and aren’t apprehensive about using them.

This will mean instituting lifelong learning for employees – from day 1 – constantly reskilling and upskilling workers to ensure everyone has the opportunity to learn new skills.

Indeed, research from CBI revealed that businesses, government and individuals need to increase spending on adult education by £130bn by 2030 if they are to narrow the skills gap. Organisations will need to think holistically about managing reskilling, upskilling and job transitioning. Assessing the digital transformation requirements of the enterprise should help to direct investment priorities for training and development.

Addressing and easing workplace role transitions will require new training models and approaches that include on-the-job training and opportunities that support and signpost workers to opportunities to upgrade their skills. Similarly, investing in digital talent platforms that foster fluidity, by matching workers and their skills with new work opportunities within the enterprise will be key.

Agata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft


Quantifying the UK Data Skills Gap

18th May 2021: As set out in the National Data Strategy, data is now the driving force of the world’s modern economies. It fuels innovation in businesses large and small and has been a lifeline during the global coronavirus pandemic. Effective use of data can boost productivity, create new businesses and jobs, improve public services and position the UK as the forerunner of the next wave of innovation. Notably, scarce data skills have been critical in the deployment of research capabilities to the coronavirus response.

Data skills are important not only for companies but also individuals. Data-literate individuals are more likely to benefit from and contribute to the increasingly data-rich environments they live and work in.

I want to ensure that businesses across all sectors can get the data literate employees they need. Many companies are experiencing real difficulties in finding such employees. With demand growing, there is an urgent need to intensify efforts to boost the number of skilled workers. We should be looking to all areas of society to find people with potential and talent to fill these roles. I also want to ensure individuals have the opportunities to develop their data skills.

To develop solutions and ensure we focus efforts in the right place, we need to better understand the demand and supply for data skills. To do this, and to inform Government policy, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport commissioned Opinium to undertake research. To inform their research Opinium contacted 1,045 businesses, 5,000 workers and 1,000 students in higher education or training across the UK.

The research found that there is significant demand for data skills with UK companies recruiting for 178,000 to 234,000 roles requiring hard data skills. Almost half of businesses (48%) are recruiting for roles that require hard data skills but under half (46%) have struggled to recruit for these roles over the last 2 years. The supply of graduates with specialist data skills from universities is limited. While many companies undertake to train their own workers internally, half of all workers surveyed reported they had not received any data skills training within the last two years despite considerable interest in undertaking training.

The government is already taking action to address the data skills gap.

In Autumn 2020 DCMS and the Office for AI launched a degree conversion course programme in data science and AI. The programme will create at least 2,500 graduates over 3 years. The Department for Education is rolling out digital bootcamps in all English regions that include courses in data analysis. The National Data Strategy commits the government to test effective ways to teach foundational data skills to all undergraduates. We will also be looking at further ways, using the insight from the research, to help provide the data skills industry requires whilst recognising that this should be a joint effort between industry, government, academia and other training providers.

I am delighted to lend my support to this research which provides detailed insight into the current supply and demand for data skills. This information can help address an increasingly important and urgent challenge – how to resolve the UK’s growing data skills gap.

The Rt Hon John Whittingdale OBE MP, Minister of State for Media and Data

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