Why digital upskilling must remain a top priority for all

With the UK striving to assert its continued prominence on the world stage post-Brexit, it’s essential that we act fast to improve our home-grown skills to ensure the UK stays at the forefront of the global digital economy.

While digital skills have risen up the UK’s agenda in recent years, there is still much more work needed to ensure that our workforce keeps up with the pace of technological change and the demands of the modern workplace.

Earlier this year, the British Chambers of Commerce issued a stark warning that more than 75% of businesses face a digital skills shortage, with 72% stating that the companies value basic computer skills above all others, followed by communicating and connecting through digital channels.

>See also: How Britain can solve its critical digital skills crisis

This tells us that digital skills are no longer a ‘nice to have’ but are instead imperative for surviving and thriving in today’s digital world. Over the past two years, we have been exploring this theme through the Barclays Digital Development Index, which has most recently revealed that 43% of people don’t possess the digital skills required by most jobs. Furthermore, the UK is being outpaced by international rivals in terms of the digital skills and in confidence of the workforce.

Why upskilling matters

The benefits of a digitally enhanced workplace are two-fold; for both employers and employees. The Barclays research highlights that workers with digital skills can earn up to £10,000 more a year.

Likewise, with graphic design, data and 3D modelling skills, you could stand to make an extra £3,000 a year and those able to programme and design software stand to boost their salary by up to £10,000 a year. These salary premiums could make all the difference for those working towards buying a house or saving for retirement.

>See also: National Coding Week highlights digital skills need 

But businesses have an important role to play too. In the UK, employers recognise that there is a skills deficit; many, for example, are convinced productivity would increase if their employees’ digital skills levels were higher. However, only 38% of UK employers offer their workers digital skills training. Companies can address this, and improve career prospects, by investing in training and support.

Addressing the generational gap

The need to address the digital generational gap is evident. With Generation X facing at least another three decades in the workforce, we need to ensure that they too are equipped with the digital skills needed to succeed through workplace and community training, so that no one is left behind. Delving deeper, Barclays’ research found that 35-44 year olds were 11 per cent less likely than millennials to be confident in their digital abilities.

This problem also reverberates to the gender gap – which shows no sign of closing. Interestingly, men are more likely than women to be confident in their digital skills. However, the starkest differences are at the top-end, in skills like coding and men continue – by far – to outnumber women on computer science courses.

>See also: Digital skills and sharing needed to drive transformation

Looking ahead to the digital future

Of course, there is no one-size fits all solution to addressing these skills gaps. But, there is a clear need for a more inclusive approach to digital upskilling, one that includes – and involves – people of all ages and backgrounds, across all parts of the country, to become more digitally empowered.

Yes, new technologies can be daunting to many, but innovative educators – in schools, workplaces and vocational training environments – are helping people to overcome their fears.


Sourced by Ashok Vaswani, CEO, Barclays UK


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...