Why prioritising digital skills is essential for business growth
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Digitally upskilling the UK workforce is a key enabler of growth and will be essential to economic recovery. How can businesses ensure they introduce a successful strategy?
Businesses throughout the UK continue to face extreme turmoil. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the uncertainty of regulations from week to week made it difficult to plan and prioritise. Now, with decisions in government changing hourly, it is understandable that businesses don’t know whether they are coming or going.
What is clear is that growth, throughout the UK and across all sectors, is important for the country to prosper on the global stage.
AND Digital’s recent research report, ‘The Nature of the Digital Skills Gap’, reveals that over half (61 per cent) of business growth depends on digital outcomes. Based on our estimations, this equates to £50bn per year across the UK economy, and more than £240bn between now and 2026.
What will be key to achieving growth is investment in people, of all roles, and this includes digital upskilling. It is worrying to find that more than half (58 per cent) of workers say they have not received digital upskilling from their employer and 22 per cent say their employer does not offer this at all.
We found that 27 per cent of workers believe they do not have the right skills for their job. While this is having a negative impact on personal careers, it is also having an impact on businesses. In fact, a massive 81 per cent of managing directors admit it has. Over a fifth (22 per cent) say a lack of digital skills has impacted their ability to hit business targets, made them lose customers or lose key business opportunities. These findings really show it is a no-brainer that businesses need people in place with digital skills to drive the required growth.
What was also clear from the findings was a lack of understanding of what ‘digital skills’ actually means, and this presents a further barrier to closing the digital gap. A third (35 per cent) of respondents believe it’s the ability to fix IT issues. Similarly, almost half (47 per cent) believe it means either the ability to code and program, build a website or create mobile/computer applications. Concerningly, skills such as constantly evolving the way they work to keep up with innovation (34 per cent) and being experimental in their role using digital tools (26 per cent) came further down the list.
In order to truly understand how we close the digital skills gap, we must first agree what digital skills actually are. It’s about so much more than just technical skills. It also includes professional skills, such as product and delivery management, and human skills such as empathy, creativity and teaming. Individuals and teams with such skills are vital in creating a digital future, and for businesses to see continued growth and success.
Despite the misunderstanding of what digital skills means, as well as a lack of current digital training, there is a big appetite for upskilling. We found that half (49 per cent) of respondents believe improving their digital skills is essential for their career progression - whether that’s earning more or performing better in their role.
But workplace perceptions present a barrier, with four in 10 (42 per cent) of workers feeling daunted by the prospect of digital upskilling and not feeling comfortable bringing it up with their employer. This needs to change. Businesses must look internally at the culture they cultivate around upskilling and encourage an open and honest dialogue about it. Only then will they see employees who may be unsure of the possibility of digital upskilling coming forward.
As well as the impact a lack of digital skills has had on businesses, we also found that six in 10 (58 per cent) have been personally affected negatively by a lack of digital skills. Almost a third (29 per cent) say they have been turned down for either pay rises or promotions, or not put themselves forward for promotion. In times like these, this is understandably demoralising for people who are deep in the cost-of-living crisis. Situations like this will no doubt have an effect on their productivity too - something the UK is also troubled with, and businesses cannot afford to see this drop.
Carving out bespoke upskilling programmes tailored to suit people’s specific needs and a clear progression path will instil confidence in workers and help them see a positive future in the business - whether that’s heading towards a new role, a pay boost or something else.
Ultimately, digital upskilling empowers employees, and empowered employees give back - in time, creativity, care and so much more that goes into making a successful business. That's something which should never be taken for granted. And especially not now when it is so crucial for growth
Stuart Munton is chief for delivery at AND Digital.
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