30 Nov 2022

Growing digital skills gap threatens Britain's ambitions as 'the next Silicon Valley'

UK&I CEO Zahra Bahrololoumi explores the digital skills gap issue and recent Salesforce research in this blog.

Britain finds itself in a digital quandary. Technology permeates every facet of our lives – from the iPhone morning alarm and Deliveroo lunch order, to the smart watch that tracks our sleep. Yet British workers feel ill-equipped to operate digitally at work.

New research commissioned by Salesforce found that workers rank digital skills as the most important skill for the current and future workplace but more than a quarter [27%] do not feel confident in any digital capabilities.

There is a cost to businesses that cannot recruit digitally literate staff. There is a cost to employees who have fewer opportunities to advance without training. And there is a cost to Britain’s future with few schoolchildren recognising the importance of digital skills for the future workplace.

The UK is facing a digital skills crisis, we need the Government and business to take action.

The numbers add up

The government has a vision to make the UK ‘the next Silicon Valley’, yet Britain's status as a leading technology hub will be compromised if we don't upskill the nation. A failure to act also curbs the UK’s ability to navigate unprecedented economic headwinds, as conversations with UK CEOs reveal that digital transformation is crucial to driving cost savings, efficiency gains and long-term growth. The economic case for digital upskilling is clear.

Don’t overlook the social impact

But, for me, the most worrying effect of this crisis is its ability to limit the prospects of communities and individuals across the country.

According to our survey, UK workers want to upskill. Access to continued learning ranked as more important than pay bonuses and wellbeing benefits. Current workers blamed their poor digital confidence on a lack of training, with a third saying their job doesn’t provide digital upskilling opportunities.

Digital capabilities are a gateway to many roles, not just coding, so to upskill means to expand horizons. And we need to convince the future generation of that too. Worryingly, schoolchildren ranked digital skills as only the seventh most important aspect of the 2030 workplace, and computer science was the fifth dream job for boys and not even in the top 10 for girls.

We are failing our current and future workforce.

A solution

We know training does exist, thanks to educational institutions and business programmes like Salesforce’s free online digital learning tool Trailhead. The problem is that people don’t know where to go or feel confident that these options are right for them.

Salesforce is calling for a national skills platform backed by Government and business. It would bring together programmes from across industry and academia to create an easy-to-access pool of resources to make digital skills accessible and promote their critical value.

Education works

Just talk to those who have used Salesforce’s learning tools. For example, when ex-England rugby sevens player Phil Burgess retired from professional sport, he had limited digital skills, lacked confidence and, ultimately, didn’t think tech was for him, but by leveraging Trailhead to upskill, Phil landed a role as an Account Executive at Salesforce.

“On the one hand, you have retiring athletes. On the other, a digital skills crisis. It could be much more symbiotic” says Phil – an ethos that should be applied to all industries. A united approach from Government and business must join the dots between professionals in need of training and the skills gap.

These concerns are too prevalent and too urgent to ignore. As techUK’s Deputy CEO Antony Walker warns: “The digital skills gap is one of the biggest challenges facing the UK.” But tackling this challenge cannot be solved by business alone. Business, government and educational organisations have a shared obligation to train the nation.

If they are thinking about resolutions for 2023, digitising Britain should be near the top of the list.