One in four firms face shortage in basic digital skills

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Nearly a quarter of employers say their workforce lacks the basic digital skills they need, while a report finds the education system is not sufficiently meeting this demand.

Although 92% of organisations state that having basic digital skills is important for their employees and four in five job vacancies require them, 23% are facing a significant gap according to a report from three skills organisations.

It defined basic digital skills as having a proficiency with common software such as Microsoft Word and Excel; the ability to communicate digitally; the ability to process digital information and content; and the ability to learn new digital skills.

Advanced digital skills – such as having an in-depth knowledge of areas like computer-aided design or coding – are becoming increasingly important, with 27% of employers requiring the majority of their workforce to have these abilities and 60% expecting their reliance on advanced digital capabilities to increase in the next five years. However, 37% say their workforce lacks these skills.

Although 88% of young people recognise that these skills are important for their career, only 18% feel they have the advanced digital skills that employers need.

While take-up of computer sciences has grown at undergraduate and postgraduate level, participation in ICT subjects in school and further education has declined, the research by the Learning and Work Institute, education consultant WorldSkills UK, and engineering skills advocate Enginuity claims.

Since 2015 there has been a 40% decline in pupils taking ICT subjects at GCSE.

As a result, less than half of employers think young people are leaving full-time education with sufficient advanced digital skills.

“Young people and businesses are at one, recognising the growing importance of the digital economy. But assumptions that the current digital skills gap will be closed in the months and years to come are misplaced,” said Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann, WorldSkills UK chief executive.

“As business demand for advanced digital skills is growing, fewer young people are applying to study the subject which could, if allowed to go unchecked, lead to a significant shortfall in provision.

“We need to plug shortages by inspiring more young women as well as young men to understand that digital careers are for them, and we also need to ensure the skills they are developing are of the highest quality to meet employer and economic needs. This is crucial for attracting much-needed foreign inward investment to create jobs across the UK and help the economy grow.”

The recommendations made in the report include:

  • Tackling inequality by inspiring more young women to develop their digital skills and addressing gendered assumptions and structural barriers that stand in the way of this progress
  • Boosting the demand for and supplier of digital skills across all regions of the UK. London currently has the highest level of supply of digital skills, but they are important for all parts of the UK
  • Tackling digital poverty by ensuring that all young people have access to an appropriate device and to a decent and affordable broadband connection
  • Employers increasing their investment in digital skills development.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said: “Our research shows that demand for basic digital skills is already nearly universal, and demand for more advanced digital skills will continue to increase. Helping young people develop the digital skills that employers need will be vital both to driving our economic competitiveness, and to ensuring young people can succeed in the labour market of the future.

“We need to see a step-change in ambition on digital skills, with government, employers, providers and local areas working together to deliver the digital skills we will need.”

The research involved 1,004 employers and 2,017 people aged 16-24.

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