What is the digital skills gap?

Despite digital skills becoming increasingly in demand, there is a digital skills gap in many countries, including the UK. A lack of trained graduates, young people going into STEM subjects, and companies upskilling employees are just a few reasons for this and it results in companies not being able to access enough skilled professionals. This can negatively impact the growth, productivity, and profitability of businesses and, ultimately, the economy. If things don’t change, this gap is likely to get bigger as three in five employers (60%) expect their reliance on advanced digital skills to increase in the next five years.


The importance of closing the digital skills gap

Enhancing digital skills will be crucial to many businesses, even those that aren’t IT or tech-related, such as building and using systems in the NHS, for example, appointment or treatment systems. In fact, over nine in ten (92%) businesses say that having a basic level of digital skills is important for employees at their organisation, and four in five (82%) job vacancies ask for digital skills. Learning and Work Institute’s employer survey also found that the proportion of employers who saw basic digital skills as important for employees was particularly high in some sectors outside of IT, including media, marketing, advertising, and PR (100%), and finance and accounting (97%). However, alongside the near-universal demand for basic digital skills, there is also a high demand for advanced digital skills with one in four (27%) employers saying they require skills at a higher than basic level.

If we don’t make the effort to tackle the digital skills gap it will mean that tech progress will start to slow down because there won’t be enough skilled people to carry out updates or changes and pass on their knowledge to others. However, it is not just the tech industry that will be affected; research has shown that 32% of skilled workers across multiple occupations in the UK are struggling with carrying out their day-to-day jobs due to a lack of digital knowledge. The Next Generation of Hiring report has shown that 18.3% of HR managers feel the skills gap is their biggest obstacle when recruiting new staff, so this must change as 78% of HR managers also believe that recruitment is important to meet their goals for growth over the next 5 years.

How employers can help close this gap

One key way employers can help close the digital skills gap is by upskilling their current employees through training, whether that’s using eLearning, instructor-led training, workshops, or webinars. Research has found that a blend of eLearning and instructor-led learning is the most beneficial way of learning for most people. Employers that fail to do this are likely to fall behind the companies that do, and increase the gap further as there is limited talent that already has the advanced digital skills they require. This may seem like a big task and potentially costly, however, the benefits will outweigh this in both productivity, innovation, and profit. Investing in your employee’s development will also build loyalty between you and increase staff retention.  Despite this being an effective method, almost three in five workers say their employer has never provided them with training to improve their digital skills.

Mentorships are also an effective way of upskilling employees, with 84% of CEOs saying that mentors helped them to avoid costly mistakes and 86% crediting mentors as crucial to their career accomplishments. Not only does it help upskill employees, but it also helps build a rapport between colleagues and opens communication that allows the mentee to feel comfortable asking questions which will further help them to progress. However, this does rely on the mentor having enough in-depth knowledge about digital skills, so the company would need to ensure that this is sufficient before the mentoring starts, otherwise it won’t be an effective use of time.

Being a diverse and inclusive company will also help close the digital gap within your company as it will create a bigger talent pool with a range of skills and experience. It will also help in making all your employees feel valued and able to fulfil their potential and, in turn, help staff retention. When employees feel appreciated, they are also more likely to want to learn new skills and help the company grow. Focusing on individual growth and development through training and mentorship is an example of being inclusive. Diversity also enables quicker problem-solving as different people will have different ideas, increasing productivity. With the tech industry being made up of 73% of jobs being held by men and 62% of jobs held by white employees it is even more important to be a diverse and inclusive company, so we can make a change to those stats.

Another way of upskilling employees is by fostering a continuous learning culture. This works best when the company celebrates and rewards successes because it encourages those who are doing well to continue to learn and pushes those who haven’t done as much to do more. Research by AND Digital and McKinsey showed that 76% of organisations think that transforming culture and ways of working is a crucial challenge, 42% lack leadership and talent for agile transformation, and 28% lack sufficient resources.


Gaining digital skills as a candidate

Not only do employers benefit from individuals gaining advanced digital skills, but it also can lead to a great career with lots of opportunities. It is also likely you will not be out of a job any time soon and you’ll be a part of reducing the digital skills gap. Whilst all digital skills are useful, some are projected to be most in demand over the next year, including programming languages (mostly Python and JavaScript), SEO optimisation, data analytics, software engineering, software development, UX, AI, and cybersecurity. You can read more about what skills you will need to learn for each section here.

Updating your digital skills can increase your earnings by between 3% and 10%. If this appeals to you but you’re not sure how to learn these skills, the National Careers site offers lots of advice and apprenticeships are also another great way to break into a digital role.


Find out about current tech opportunities here.