COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation of organisations in the UK, with many adopting new technologies to adapt to and bounce back stronger from the pandemic. This has made digital skills even more highly valued and the development of digital capabilities across the workforce is now viewed as a key component to successfully recovering from the current crisis. 

However, it is estimated that two-thirds of the UK workforce could lack basic digital skills by 2030 if we carry on the same path. As a result, there is now a huge concern that this growing gap in digital skills will hamper any chance of a strong bounce back from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. 

We have just published the findings of a major survey that looked at how HR, talent acquisition and Learning and Development (L&D) executives from a wide range of sectors are viewing these challenges, which helped us gain a temperature check on what they perceive to be the solution. 

So, what did we find? Firstly, we found that over half (54%) of UK businesses are finding it difficult to source good candidates for entry-level digital economy roles, while data analytics, cybersecurity and programming skills were the top skills identified as a priority in the next 12 months.

Additionally, over three-quarters (76%) of UK organisations think the government needs to invest further in closing the digital economy skills gaps. Without this investment, four in five HR leaders will need to turn to recruiting overseas within the next 12 months to acquire the digital skills they need and just over half (53%) of businesses would pay over the odds to acquire the right talent, which highlights the unrealised potential for job seekers in the UK. 

Without access to the right quality and quantity of talent, well over half of businesses reported they were concerned about missing out on key strategic deliverables (60%) within the next five years, as well as not delivering value to their shareholders (55%). 

But there’s one finding that I believe deserves particularly close attention. An overwhelming majority of HR leaders (88%) highlighted a lack of confidence in the existing structures of the education sector to deliver the requisite talent needed to rebound from the pandemic and for the UK to thrive in the global digital economy.. 

While there are many causes when it comes to digital skills shortages, our survey has shown that a key contributing factor is a lack of confidence in the entire education sector to support the development of applied digital skills and commercially relevant learning experiences aligned to the evolving needs of the economy. 

While the survey offered some clear insight into the concerns and challenges HR leaders and L&D executives are now facing, it also gave some indication of some possible solutions.  

Most respondents believe that there needs to be further investment in the secondary school system to address the long-term skills deficit. However, a major finding was the need for a hybrid solution that allows higher education (HE) and industry to join forces. Although alternative training providers  have emerged to address the gaps, the quality and higher order competencies developed within a university education is still preferred by employers. This is why an overwhelming majority (66%) of talent leaders suggested that they would prefer a hybrid solution that combines academic qualifications as well as a practical work portfolio. 

Employers clearly value a combination of the two, so by merging their unique strengths there is significant potential to create programmes that integrate industry expertise and enterprise technologies within traditional qualifications. This could not only help current undergraduates obtain the skills they need to thrive in the digital economy, but also support those currently in work to make the transition from a non-digital role to high growth digital careers. 

HR leaders have an opportunity to shape this trend working with innovative providers now operating at the intersection of universities and employers.  Working together, they can rethink curricula and creare access to a stronger pipeline of talent with the range of skills that are genuinely in tune with their needs now and in the future.

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