Mind the gap: How to solve the digital talent shortage

05 Dec 2022

The UK is currently facing a major digital talent shortage. A lack of essential digital skills in the workforce threatens to stifle economic growth after an accelerated period of post-pandemic digitalisation. So how do we bridge the digital talent gap?  

What’s driving the digital skills gap?

The digital talent shortage in the UK comes down to supply and demand. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digitisation of many industries and businesses, leading to unprecedented demand for hires with essential digital skills. However, digital poverty – defined by the Digital Poverty Alliance as “the inability to interact with the online world fully, when, where and how an individual needs to” – has widened the digital talent gap further.

The result? A significant shortage of digital skills right when the economy needs them most.    

How big is the problem?

Big! At a time when companies scramble to roll out digital transformation programs, the widening digital talent gap threatens to hamper efforts. A major culprit is growing digital inequality, with young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds most at risk. According to the Learning & Work (L&W) Institute, more than one in 20 households has no internet access, and one in five families with children has no access to an appropriate device.  

The digital talent shortage is also an issue amongst incumbent employees. Nearly a quarter of employers (23%) surveyed by L&W said their current workforce lacked the basic digital skills they needed, with more than a third (37%) of employees lacking advanced digital skills. Businesses are worried as a result, with just over three-quarters of companies (76%) admitting that their digital skills gap was likely to hinder their profitability.

Bridging the UK digital skills gap

Bridging the digital skills shortage in the UK will take time and effort. But there are plenty of steps companies can take now to plug the digital talent shortage. 

Identifying the gaps

The first step towards bridging the digital talent gap is identifying gaps within your organisation. According to research from Capgemini Research Institute and LinkedIn, 59% of employers cite a lack of soft digital skills (like customer-centricity and passion for learning) amongst employees compared to 51% who lack hard digital skills (such as cloud computing and cybersecurity). Knowing where your business lags can sharpen your digital talent acquisition.

Invest in learning & training

Investing in meaningful learning and training opportunities can help to hone essential digital skills within your organisation. Capgemini and LinkedIn found that nearly half of all digital talent described their workplace training programs as “useless and boring”. Therefore, investing in high-quality training opportunities, and empowering talent to drive their learning journey, are crucial steps towards upskilling your workforce.

Retain talent

Failing to support the training and development of talent leads to churn. More than half of all digital talent (55%) would jump ship if they felt their digital skills stagnated, with 58% likely gravitating towards organisations that promise digital skill development. So as well as engaging new entry-level talent, be sure to give current employees plenty of opportunities to hone their digital skills if you want to keep them.

Nurture a culture of continuous improvement

No employee is perfect. All talent needs continuing professional development. Rather than approaching digital transformation with a short-term attitude, strive to nurture a culture of top-down continuous improvement. If you want to future-proof your business, you must give your employees the time, encouragement and tools to embrace learning and change if your company wants to keep pace with new technology and techniques.   

Apprenticeships in underrepresented areas

As we mentioned earlier, digital poverty is a growing problem. It leads to a less diverse workforce, which underrepresents the authentic voice of British society. For example, The Guardian reported that figures from the Department of Education showed that just 13.3% of apprenticeship starts in 2019/20 came from ethnic minority communities. Launching apprenticeships in underrepresented areas can help to address the digital talent shortage by engaging with talented individuals who would otherwise be frozen out of digital roles. 

The future

Demand for advanced digital skills will rise significantly over the coming years. A survey by the CBI and Tata in 2019 found that three in five (58%) employers expected to need substantially more advanced digital skills within five years. Moreover, the demand for digital skills will continue to grow beyond specialised tech roles, with traditionally less digital sectors – like hospitality and social care – already increasingly demanding digital skills.

According to PwC, some of the leading game-changing technologies likely to underpin digital transformation over the coming years include: artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), blockchain, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and 3D printing. Businesses that can harness and combine these technologies and plug any digital skills gaps in these areas will likely reap the rewards over the longer term.  

The digital skills gap costs the UK economy as much as £63 billion a year. The Department for Education’s Employer Skills Survey has also found that employers facing a digital talent gap reported higher workloads for other staff (84%), problems meeting customer service objectives (49%), higher operating costs (45%), and lost business to competitors (40%). UK businesses simply cannot afford to ignore the digital talent shortage moving forward.

Close the gap with Propel

The digital skills shortage in the UK is a growing problem that businesses need to grapple with if they’re to future-proof their business and remain competitive. Attracting and retaining digital talent are significant drivers for bridging the digital talent gap. That means investing in high-quality training, fostering continuous improvement, and engaging with underrepresented communities to ensure the barriers of digital poverty can be overcome. 

Our mission is to fuel potential, both the potential of our hires and the companies we place them with. No matter how digital our world becomes, skilled human beings will always be essential to the success of any business. We help companies to access the best digital talent to achieve their goals. We can also help your business by providing hires that aren’t just digitally proficient but are the right fit for your organisation. For more information about our tailored solutions for the tech industry, please get in touch with the Propel team. Contact us today on 0203 965 6524 or email enquiries@propellondon.com.

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