The digital skills gap in the UK could hamper economic recovery, a new study from Microsoft has revealed.

Research conducted by Microsoft in partnership with Goldsmiths, University of London has warned that a lack of digital skills “could leave companies struggling to compete on the global stage”.

The digital skills gap refers to the difference between the number of employees with the necessary digital skills, and the number required for businesses to grow and innovate.

According to the Open University, The UK skills shortage is costing organisations £6.3bn, and research from CBI revealed that businesses, government and individuals needing to increase spending on adult education by £130bn by 2030 if they are to narrow the skills gap.

This is particularly significant in the context of the pandemic, with many businesses pivoting towards a more digital focus, and many employees now working remotely, meaning digital skills are more valuable than ever.

Microsoft’s report, titled Unlocking the UK’s potential with digital skills, revealed that 80% of UK leaders believe investment in digital skills will be important to the country’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery,  while 78% also view a large pool of digital talent as essential to the UK’s competitiveness in the global economy.

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Despite 59% of UK employees believing that developing their digital skills will be important to their future employability, particularly following the outbreak of Covid-19, two-thirds of UK business leaders surveyed said their organisation was facing a digital skills gap, with many worried that this could affect their ability to succeed if they cannot fill new and emerging roles in their industry.

Leaders cited a lack of budget for reskilling, training courses and hiring as the biggest barrier to narrowing the digital skills gap.

Microsoft said that the research “raises concerns” over the UK’s “digital shortcomings”, highlighting that technology plays a “critical role” in the country’s economic recovery.

The next-gen worker

However, the report also provided organisations with actionable guidance for organisations on how to tackle the skills gap. It advised businesses to focus on developing productive skills: technical skills which allow someone to create digital tools and systems.

It also predicts the emergence of a “next-gen worker” who, empowered by low-code and no-code technology, have high consumptive skills and emerging productive skills”, meaning they are proficient in using digital solutions, and have the potential to create new digital tools.

In order to tap into next-gen workers, Microsoft encouraged organisations to “evaluating talent pools, developing data literacy and integrated digital team to drive skills forward; considering non-traditional learning opportunities, evolving learning schemes to focus on advanced digital training and creating champions for change; re-thinking talent acquisition, identifying gaps and fostering a dynamic culture, inclusive of everyone.”

Nick Ford, chief technology evangelist at Mendix said:

“This research is further evidence of the perceived digital skills gap that exists within the UK. Despite this, it is important to understand that even the most traditional businesses have a large number of digitally skilled employees. These employees are often restricted by the company they work for because they are young and at the start of their career. This means that they are not encouraged to take part in strategically important digital projects and unable to really utilise their digital skills.

“To overcome this problem there needs to be a change of mindset to make collaboration and transformation happen. Business leaders need to encourage employees from across their workforce, including both business and IT, to embrace experimentation, learning, and different ways of doing things. By encouraging a digital mindset amongst staff and creating more broad and integrated teams, businesses will see that they do have the digital skills required to compete in the modern world. It isn’t always about finding new digital talent, but about harnessing the talent already at your disposal.”

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