As seen in The Times, our recent article explores how organisations can close the digital skills gap.
This article first appeared in The Times.
The UK is facing a digital skills gap that threatens the future prosperity of our businesses and individuals. But the good news is that this problem is not as intractable as it might initially seem - proactive and flexible employers are already finding ways to cope.
Learning from these trailblazers is crucial. A study published by the Centre for Economics and Business Research last autumn warned that 12% of Britons lack basic digital literacy and that the UK could miss out on £22 billion of economic benefits over the next decade as a result.
It has been estimated that the shortfall of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills required by the digital economy now stands at 40,000, with employers struggling to fill 43% of STEM vacancies.
“The digital skills gap is an issue for every sector of the economy,” warns Mark Williamson, KPMG’s Head of People Consulting. “Digital transformation across industries is driving an unprecedented level of demand for new skills that the country is ill-equipped to meet.”
Most experts agree that the scale of the problem – and its potential negative implications for the UK – requires a coordinated response from policymakers, employers, educators and other groups. Fully closing the skills gap will take time and a shift of mindset, with more young people encouraged to embrace STEM subjects to build a much deeper talent pool for the future.
In the meantime, however, employers are identifying ways to achieve their digital ambitions even where their workforce lacks the skills to do so.
There are some short-term fixes. For example, employers can start thinking about their staff more fluidly, hiring “contingent” workers with particular skills when they are needed, on a freelance or project basis, say. Outsourcing will also be important, with businesses turning to specialist digital providers for many services and functions.
Nevertheless, argues Williamson, there is no getting away from the fact that employers must now invest in increasing skills in the workforce – both existing staff and the future talent pool. “We are going to have to retrain people to work in these new areas as digital transformation continues and accelerates,” he says. “And people will want to acquire these skills – the ability to support employees’ lifelong learning will become a key element of an organisation’s ability to recruit and retain people.”
There are many ways to achieve these goals, with organisations experimenting with new types of training for the existing workforce, while reaching out to the potential employees of the future.
Such projects are vital, says Chris Pockett, head of communications at the engineering company Renishaw, which also works with schools and universities, aiming to inspire younger people to embrace digital and science skills. “We work with thousands of kids each year and clearly most of them will never work for Renishaw, but a broader talent pool is going to benefit all of us,” he argues. The company’s approach to the digital skills gap has seen a huge expansion of its apprenticeships and graduate-entry programmes, which gives Renishaw the chance to train staff in exactly the disciplines where it needs them most.
Elsewhere, other organisations are trying different ideas. For example, each year, Rocket Software runs a global coding competition for its staff, with every local office encouraged to participate and the initiative culminating in a grand prize-giving ceremony at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston, in the US.
“By bringing together our best minds and allowing them to let their creativity run wild, we can find truly innovative solutions for our customers,” says the company’s chief product officer, Anjali Arora. “And having employees from around the world engaging in the same activity simultaneously is a really special thing.”
There are, in other words, a variety of options for building staff engagement with training and development. The key, believes Mark Williamson, is to focus on the whole workforce but also to think about the individual. “Getting the right value proposition for employees is vital – think about what it will take to attract new people and keep them,” he says. “Then tailor your approach to the individual, offering development opportunities that they can exploit in a way that suits them.”