The United Kingdom’s Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton has today unveiled new qualifications designed to teach adults vital digital skills.

According to research from Lloyds Bank, one in five adults currently possesses no digital skills, and this figure has been increasing since 2017.

These free courses have been designed to curb that decline by teaching skills that are vital to interacting with an increasingly digital world based on the new national standards for essential digital skills.

The government has identified five key skills that need addressing: handling information, creating and editing digital content, communicating, transacting and being safe and responsible online.

Those aged over 19 will be able to make use of the free courses, which will teach skills such as sending an email, completing an online form or using a smartphone or tablet.

Announcing the plan, Milton said that she wants “people of all ages to have the skills and confidence they need for work and everyday life”.

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“Being online is more important than ever and yet one in five adults in the UK don’t have the basic digital skills that many of us take for granted,” Milton said. “This is cutting many people off from so many opportunities – from accessing new jobs, further study and being able to stay in touch with friends and family.”

A range of essential digital skills qualifications will be available from 2020, with further, more advanced courses scheduled for release the following year.

Keeping up with technological change

Research shows a correlation between unemployment and lacking digital skills. According to Gov.UK, digital skills are now equally as important to employers as English and mathematics qualifications.

Yet, while the announcement is “a step in the right direction”, there is still a significant challenge ahead according to James Eiloart, SVP EMEA at Tableau Software.

“As data becomes more and more ubiquitous, the fact is that every employee, from the HR team through to the boardroom will need to be able to see, understand and communicate data,” Eiloart said. “A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 69% of employers will demand data science and analytics skills from job candidates by the year 2021. Yet according to a separate study only 17% of UK workers can be classed as ‘data literate’.”

According to Eiloart, the UK must continue to review the qualifications that it offers in order to keep up with the ever-changing digital landscape:

“As more organisations embrace emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning to become more data-driven, the list of essential skills should continue to evolve so that it reflects the growing importance of data literacy as a core competency in the workforce.”

Businesses must do their part

While businesses are embracing technology, finding workers to fill new tech roles is proving difficult. Research has found that more than 40% of tech job applicants lack key technical skills needed to succeed in the role, highlighting the lack of talent available.

In order to close the tech talent gap, Eiloart feels that businesses need to do their part to train the future workforce.

“The scale of the challenge ahead if significant, and it would be unfair to place this burden solely on government,” Eiloart said. “Organisations across the UK will also need to play their part in ensuring current and future employees have access to an infrastructure of training and support to embrace necessary skills.”

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