Inadequate investment leaves British businesses exposed to digital skills gap

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British businesses are not doing enough to boost employees’ digital competence, according to new research commissioned by Barclays. While almost half (47%) of all businesses believe better digital skills would lead to a more productive workforce, investment in digital upskilling remains low at only £109 per employee among medium and large businesses.

The survey of UK employees and employers found that businesses have struggled to digitally upskill the workforce, as a third (34%) of employers find it difficult to implement the right training to address the current lack of digital skills. Instead, 40% of businesses opt to hire younger, more digitally savvy employees to address the skills gap, with 45% of organisations admitting to believing that older employees are often slower to pick up digital skills. A third (33%) of employers consider only a small proportion of their employees as having the digital skills they would expect of them given their role.

More than a quarter (27%) of employers surveyed considered knowledge of data and device protection a priority skill to look for when hiring new employees, exposing heightened concerns among British businesses around cyber and information security. Other digital skills that are a high priority for organisations are as follows:

  • Ability to analyse large data sets (23%)
  • Use social media effectively (21%)
  • Use cloud-based tools and services for collaboration and storage (20%)
  • Basic design skills (19%)
  • Basic knowledge of building a website (16%)
  • Coding skills (15%)
  • Ability to produce video content (10%)

However, in spite of this mounting concern, businesses are not making the necessary investments in digital training, planning on increasing investment in digital skills by only 19% over the next five years.

The squeezed middle
The digital skills gap is most apparent in medium-sized organisations, where almost half (45%) of all employers think only a small proportion of fellow workers in their organisation have the digital skills they would expect of them for their role, significantly higher than the average (33%).

However, these businesses are also the most aware of the need to invest in digital skills; almost two-thirds (63%) of medium-sized employers believe their organisation would be more productive if the level of digital skills was higher, with over a third (35%) claiming that digital skills are one of the top attributes they look for in a new recruit, higher than any other sized business.

Concerns are echoed by employees
Employees at medium-sized firms are the most concerned of any size of business about reduced productivity through lack of digital skills (38%), being overlooked for promotion (42%), being shown up by younger generation (37%) and redundancy (40%).

The fear of being replaced by a younger, digitally savvy employee is reflected by the fact that almost two thirds (59%) of medium-sized business owners say they rely on hiring younger employees and graduates to address the lack of digital skills, a figure significantly greater than the average (40%).

Despite feeling concerned at a lack of digital skills, a significant proportion of employees are still not taking steps to upskill themselves; almost half (47%) of all employees asked have never taken steps to boost their digital capabilities, while out of those that have only 16% have done so in the last year.

Of those that have harnessed the opportunity to boost their digital skills, 63% of employees in medium sized businesses say it has had a positive impact on their career progression; and an overwhelming 68% said it has improved their ability to do their job, showing there is much to gain on both an individual and business level from investing in digital skills.

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    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson