The UK workforce has a significant digital skills gap, with an estimated 17 million people in the country needing more basic digital skills for the modern workplace as of 2021. According to a report by the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, this skills gap cost the UK an estimated £63 billion a year in lost GDP. This is unsurprising, given that almost three in five workers say their employer has never provided them with training to improve their digital skills.
The pandemic illuminated the problem caused by the digital skills gap as remote work became a reality overnight. While many individuals have adapted and improved their digital skills during this time, there is still a significant need for upskilling and reskilling across various sectors and industries. Despite initiatives created to provide digital skills training and encourage businesses to invest by the UK Government, more needs to be done. Paul Geddes, CEO of QA, states, "We also need to talk about where employers fit in all of this…The digital skills gap is not just a problem, it is an impending one that, if we don’t get a grip on it in the near future, could have significant repercussions for the UK economy."
Many digital skills are required in the UK, including data analysis and management, cybersecurity, cloud computing, AI, and Machine Learning. The decision of which skills to invest in is entirely dependent on the organization, its industry, current capabilities, and a myriad of other factors. However, the way to develop such skills is clearer.
Business leaders can mitigate this unfavorable outcome by closing the digital skills gap themselves. Investing in training and development is one of the primary ways in which this can be achieved. There are several strategies an organization could adopt; some of Masters in Mind’s favorites include offering training programs, eLearning courses, and creating a digital skills culture by encouraging continuous learning.
Training programs can be delivered through various methods, such as online courses, Instructor-Led Training, webinars, or workshops. Having said this, a blended approach is particularly pertinent in the context of digital skills. The combination of eLearning and traditional classroom consultancy caters to more learning styles and paces, improving results. The International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning found that a blended learning approach improved learning outcomes and increased employee satisfaction with the training program. Moreover, the eLearning industry found that a blended approach can improve engagement, motivation, and knowledge retention compared to traditional classroom-based programs.
Not only does training and development contribute towards closing the digital skills gap, but organizations are already well aware that those effectively upskilling and reskilling their workforce regularly generate ROI of six times the initial cost. This is achieved through increased productivity, innovation, and reduced turnover. This was further supported by Deloitte, who found that organizations that invest in employee development and upskilling are more likely to be successful in the long run, with higher growth and profit margins.
Another way in which employers can contribute towards closing their organization’s digital skills gap is through industry associations and networks. Engaging regularly with such networks ensures one is up-to-date with the latest digital trends and development. A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review supported this with evidence that companies that regularly collaborate with external partners are more likely to adopt new technologies. Moreover, the National Center for the Middle Market found that it improves an organization’s position in the market by gaining access to valuable resources and expertise. Some examples of industry associations are The Open Networking Foundation, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and The Cloud Native Computing Foundation.
Another way is through diversity and inclusion, which is already known to increase revenue by up to 2.3 times higher profits per employee than its less diverse counterparts. Organizations that create a diverse and inclusive workplace are more likely to encourage individuals with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and capabilities. This helps in a plethora of ways. For example, organizations with diverse workforces are better positioned to attract and retain top talent; generally, these individuals are better equipped to develop innovative solutions to complex problems, including digital transformation initiatives, as found by McKinsey & Company.
Another way in which diversity and inclusion are important within this context is through building an inclusive workplace culture. Said culture ensures all employees feel valued and included, leading to higher levels of engagement and productivity. When employees feel respected and supported, they are generally more likely to be motivated to learn new digital skills, as evidenced by a study conducted by SHRM, which found that a diverse workforce also creates an inclusive culture of learning. Diversity and inclusion are important aspects of closing the digital skills gap and remaining competitive in today’s digital economy.
There are, of course, many ways organizations can tackle this problem. While L&D, industry associations and networks, and improving diversity and inclusion are some of the most effective ways, the type of strategy one should choose is organizationally dependent. The only wrong decision is inaction.
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