Are We Really Heading Towards A Digital Skills Shortage Disaster?


The impact of Covid-19 has led to a greater demand for digital skills as businesses of all sizes, across all sectors, adapt their digital output. Even before the pandemic hit, the prevalence of digital tools and changing consumer behaviours rapidly accelerated the need for specialist skills, particularly in AI, cloud and robotics, as companies entered the race to provide the best experiences for their customers.

In fact, the need for digital skills is increasing at such a rate that the UK is facing a shortage which has been referred to as “catastrophic” and a “disaster”. Accurate or OTT? Let’s take a closer look...

Yep, it’s pretty bad.

According to the Microsoft report Unlocking the UK’s potential with digital skills, 69% of UK leaders surveyed believe their organisation has a digital skills gap, with 70% expecting to experience one over the next year. Two in five leaders (44%) fear the current lack of digital skills within their organisation will harm their success in the next year. 

Further reports suggest the digital skills gap is only set to widen in the coming years. Findings from the Learning & Work Institute revealed that the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE had dropped 40% since 2015. 

It’s cause for concern for businesses, with 81% believing they’ll need to recruit outside of the UK in the next 12 months to meet digital requirements, according to a study by FourthRev. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

According to data from LinkedIn, 32% of C-level executives from large UK firms say that upskilling employees is a top priority in the next six months, suggesting that leaders recognise the urgency of the situation. And it seems that employees are eager to learn, with 59% stating that developing their digital skills will be important to their employability in the future. 

Additionally, a poll conducted by the CIPD and Accenture found that although organisations have seen L&D budgets shrink by 31%, 70% report there has been an increase in the use of digital or online learning programmes over the last year. 

A pwc survey of 32,500 workers also found that 40% claim their digital skills improved during the lockdown periods, with 77% ‘ready to learn new skills or completely retrain’. Almost three quarters (74%) view training as a personal responsibility, and 80% are confident they can adapt to new technologies entering their workplace.

While the attitude to develop digital skills exists for both organisations and employees, there’s still a lot of work to be done to close the gap. Of course, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to solving digital skills shortages. It will take investment, collaboration and commitment from employers, employees and the government. Crucially, it will take time, which many organisations are short on as they pursue recovery and growth following the pandemic. 

In our next blog, we explore the challenges that digital skills shortages present for today’s hiring managers and the practical steps they can take to stand out from the competition to secure the right skills today and prepare for the future.

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