Closing The Digital Skills Gap

The Digital Skills Gap refers to the lack of digital skills in existing workforces and the lack of properly trained candidates to fill necessary posts in business. In the UK, this gap is estimated to cost the economy £63 billion a year. In fact, a recent government report found that 72% of large companies and 49% of SMEs are suffering a large Digital Skills Gap.

Given that our digital economy is both the largest and the fastest growing in the G20, it is important that this is addressed, but what are the causes?

Arguably, the most notable reason for the extensive Digital Skills Gap is the rapid expansion of the tech industry over the last few decades; a report on the digital skills crisis found that almost 90% of new jobs now require digital skills to some degree. With this impressive growth in the number of digital-based jobs, the UK workforce has been simply unable to keep up with the skills demand.

In addition to this, the number of foreign tech job applications is down a reported 50% since the referendum vote to leave the EU. So not only are there not enough skilled employees from within the UK to take these positions, but the number of foreign applicants who were filling many positions is decreasing.

Alongside this, the quality of digital skills being taught in schools is also a contributing factor. Only 35% of computer or IT teachers in schools have a relevant degree, indicating that many students may not be getting the quality of training they need to enter the modern workplace, which adds to the increasing concerns about the future workforce of the UK.

Finally, many companies aren’t thinking on a larger scale about how digital talent can help them to expand and improve their services. As well as focusing on digital skills at a recruitment level, companies need to promote training and growth of skills from within, and to nurture the digital skills of existing staff.

What is being done to address this?

The Government have begun to put measures in place to address this, with an emphasis on: improving digital education and training for young people, upskilling existing workforces with digital skills, and encouraging businesses to be proactive in investing in digital skills.

Since 2010, the Government has provided £36 million to fund various programmes, including a Digital Inclusion Strategy. The strategy was set up to reduce the number of adults without digital skills by tackling four barriers; a lack of access to the internet, missing skills to be able to use the internet, lack of motivation and a lack of trust. But while this targets the more extreme symptoms of the skills gap, it is unlikely that those without any digital skills will transition into highly technical careers.

In April of 2017, the government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy in acknowledgement that we need to turn our attention to those who have limited digital skills and lack the confidence and knowledge to make the most of the digital economy. The Levy forces large companies (with a payroll over £3 million) to invest in either their existing, or new, staff’s skill development, through charging a tax in return for funding towards training and assessment costs. It is predicted that 64% of participating companies will use their Levy to fund digital and IT training programmes.

With the government targeting 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020, there is great potential for this initiative to have a lasting positive impact on the Digital Skills Gap.

For more information on hiring, upskilling your staff with IT and Digital Apprenticeships, or the Apprenticeship Levy, contact our team on 020 7426 9835.