Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, machine learning and the Internet of Things are shifting the boundaries of how we live, work and govern. Yet, the pace at which we are introducing these new technologies does not match our ability as a nation to acquire the digital skills they demand of us.
Last year, we revealed that the UK is being outpaced by international rivals in terms of the digital skills and confidence of our workforce. Our latest iteration of the Barclays Digital Development Index drills down into workforce digital skills in even greater depth and finds that our confidence in our digital abilities varies across regions, generations and industries. However, one finding stands out above the rest – 63% of UK jobs already require above-basic levels of digital skills.
But, we aren’t meeting the mark – nearly half of us (43%) don’t have the digital skills these jobs require. Many of us continue to lack the core and advanced skills that are increasingly sought after by employers, and businesses are struggling to source the talent they need to grow and progress.
Furthermore, there is no indication that pace of technological development will slow down, this UK skills shortage will only worsen with time. We need to act now to address it.
A patchwork of skills
There are also variations across the nation, with employees in some areas excelling at digital skills and employees elsewhere lagging behind.
Londoners are the clear frontrunners when it comes to digital capability, but employees in Northern Ireland, the Northwest and Scotland also show a particular aptitude for all things digital, ranking top in our assessment of digital capabilities across the nation. In the test, individuals were scored on their ability to use apps and devices to plan journeys, make payments and to create websites and share data across social platforms.
While there is untapped digital potential in the North, the Southeast and Southwest and Wales face challenges. Digital skills here lag behind the rest of the nation – perhaps because the most digitally capable have flocked to opportunities in London – and yet local employer demand for digital skills is high.
Bridging digital divides
There are clear gaps between generations too with 35-44 year olds, or “Generation X” 11 per cent less likely than millennials to be very confident in their digital abilities.
We cannot rely on younger generations to close the digital skills gap alone. With Generation X facing at least another three decades in the workforce, we need to ensure that they too are equipped with the digital skills needed to succeed through workplace and community training, so that no one is left behind.
A persistent gender gap also exists and shows no sign of closing as the research highlights men are more likely than women to be confident in their digital skills. The starkest differences are at the top-end, in skills like coding and men continue – by far – to outnumber women on computer science courses.
Opportunities for all
There is a clear need for a more inclusive approach to digital upskilling – one that incentivises people of all ages and backgrounds, in all parts of the country, to become more digitally empowered.
Digital skills have risen up the UK’s agenda in recent years but as our data shows: there is still so much more that we need to do if our workforce is to keep up with the pace of technological change and the demands of modern jobs.
There are opportunities for all if we do – our research finds that individuals with graphic design, data and 3D modelling skills stand to make an extra £3,000 a year and those able to programme and design software stand to boost their salary by up to £10,000 a year. These salary premiums could make all the difference for those working towards buying a house or saving for retirement.
Digital skills are no longer a nice to have; they are an imperative for surviving and thriving in today’s digital world. And, with the UK striving to assert its continued prominence on the world stage post-Brexit, we must act fast to improve our home-grown skills to ensure we stay at the forefront of the global digital economy.