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Online learning boosting Brits’ earning potential

Image credit: Nick Morrison | Unsplash

People turning to the internet to learn new skills is helping to boost the UK's economic output, according to new research around online learning.

The research was carried out by Demos (a UK think tank with a cross-party political viewpoint), supported by Google, and polled 20,000 people in the UK about their use of online resources.

Demos' report suggests that many working people have used internet-based learning to help increase their pay or to help them get a new job. It also found that nearly a third (30 per cent) of respondents said they had used online learning to start their own business.

Two-thirds said they use the internet to acquire new skills and information for work in the hope that it would help them carry out their role more efficiently. Twenty-nine per cent said they had used online learning to help get a pay rise, while a third said it had helped them get a new job.

People in London were found to be the most proactive in using the internet to learn new things in order to get a new job, with 32 per cent of capital dwellers saying they had done so. They were followed by people living in the West Midlands (23 per cent), the North West (20 per cent) and Scotland (20 per cent).

The report also suggests that many are self-starters when it comes to seeking new skills, with only 18 per cent saying they had done so at the suggestion or request of their employer.

Ronan Harris, managing director of Google UK and Ireland, said of the report: "Skills and productivity are vital to the growth of the UK economy. This report from Demos reveals that two-thirds of the UK workforce are using free online resources to improve productivity and that the majority of them are choosing to use search engines and video platforms as their main source of information.

"Given the ubiquitous nature of internet access, we are continuously taking onboard and sharing knowledge with those around us and it's important that we continue to do so to fully harness the benefits of online learning throughout the UK."

The research also confirmed that people are frequently turning to the internet to improve their skills in areas not necessarily related to work. Learning how to cook is the most searched for skill online, with 36 per cent of those polled saying they had looked to improve their cooking ability, followed by DIY skills (29 per cent) and gardening tips (24 per cent).

Polly Mackenzie, chief executive of Demos, said the research should make businesses "rethink" how they measure the skills of workers.

"This report gives the first real insight into the extent and impact of online learning in the UK," she said. "What we found is really encouraging – not just for the businesses and organisations that are benefiting from upskilling employees, but in terms of the economy as a whole.

"Yet there's a warning here, too – if employers fail to support this kind of learning, or fail to recognise the skills that result from it, then we all risk missing out.

"It's time to radically rethink how we measure professional skills – so we can stop obsessing over qualifications, and focus on developing ability instead."

The skills shortage is an ongoing concern for many businesses, including engineering. Various approaches to tackle the shortfall have been put forward, such as the idea that engineers may not need all the STEM attainments when they start in their roles.

Attracting more women to the profession is also seen as a key target, with a persuasive argument made for the correlation between market performance and women in leadership.

Ironically, despite the widespread use of the internet to research and learn new skills, the digital skills gap in the UK is widening, according to a 2019 report from the CBI, which found that over two-thirds of companies struggle to fill vacancies for digital roles.

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