Last June a report from the Science and Technology Committee on the state of the UK's digital skills served as a wake up call for government, employers and individual workers alike. On a macro level, the paper found that poor digital skills are costing the country an estimated £63bn in lost GDP every year.
Employers, according to the same report, had already been struggling to fill jobs due to a lack of technological education amongst applicants. The report solidified what they knew, while also encouraging them to take steps to invest in, and improve, training. For the individual, it provided a chilling call to action: bolster your digital skills or face being left behind at work.
Theresa May's commitment earlier in the year to invest £170 million in STEM institutions was part of a plan to ensure future generations of UK employees are equipped for a digitised economy. For many this was seen as a sign that the government is tackling the digital skills issue head-on. While this type of investment in today's youth is very welcome both for the individuals it impacts and the growth of the UK's economy more generally speaking, it fails to address how the current workforce can keep afloat in the digital economy.
At OpenClassrooms we have recently undertaken our own research exploring just how far reaching this digital turbulence within the UK workforce is. The findings both corroborate and expand upon last year's Science and Technology Committee report.
Most alarmingly, 3.18 million British workers do not have the necessary digital skills for the modern workplace and 59 per cent of workers are aware of the need to learn digital skills to ensure they are competitive in the job market. This awareness is still perhaps lacking behind reality - as 90 per cent of today's new jobs require digital skills to some degree. Despite this, a 24 per cent stated that they receive no digital training at all while at work.
Troublingly, responsibility for maintaining digital relevance has shifted onto the individual, with over a fifth of employees stating that their employers have no intention of addressing the issue with growing digital skills. While individuals can take steps to address their technological proficiency, both employers and the government need to take action now to begin training the existing workforce in those skills which are essential to maintaining and growing a modern economy.
Ignoring such warning signs could see the UK blindly entering into a situation in which a generation already under pressure is left behind by jobs that require a higher level of digital proficiency than they ever had the chance to achieve. At best, such a group will stagnate in terms of career progression. At worst - coupled with the incoming effects of artificial intelligence and automation - unemployment levels could rise dramatically.
Businesses must start seriously investing in training while working alongside the government to provide guidelines for the skills they require today, as well as those areas they expect to see growth in tomorrow. A shift in the structure of the way we view skills training needs to take place to match a rapidly changing workplace. Fluid, flexible training schemes will keep skills topped-up and avoid the drought we are seeing today from taking place again.
Investment in traditional providers of digital education, such as schools and universities, is a part of the solution. Yet lifetime skills training while in work is the one pathway for both businesses and the wider economy to match the pace of technological advancement. It's a pace that shows no signs of slowing, and will otherwise leave us behind.