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July 05, 2016
The Digital Skills Gap in the UK
By: Mohini Rao

It’s official—the UK is experiencing a digital skills crisis.

The UK needs another 745,000 workers with digital skills by 2017 and with the skills gap costing the economy around £63bn a year in lost income—urgent action is needed.

This is of particular importance to the Millennial generation (born 1980- 2000) who are expected to make up over a third of the global workforce by 2020. This generation have grown up with technology, ubiquitous mobile phones, social media, intelligent computer games and now virtual reality—digital is second nature to them. But despite their dexterity, this generation are consumers of digital technology rather than creators. The fact remains that there is a serious shortage of the digital skills required by employers in the workplace today.

The UK’s digital skills deficit

Today everyone needs digital skills. These skills range from the basic digital literacy required to participate in the digital economy to the advanced skills required to shape its future. Increasingly digital skills are now as important to employability as basic literacy in English and Maths. Yet 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills.

The digital skills deficit is particularly stark for young people, many of which lack these core employability skills. There are nearly one million young people are not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). These young people are born "digital natives" but lack the digital skills for work. It’s clear that closing the digital skills deficit is essential if young people are to fill rapidly changing jobs across the economy, 90 percent of which will require digital skills to some degree.

Demand is far outstripping supply, with businesses across the economy struggling to recruit the digital talent they need. This is particularly true of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and charities that make up the bedrock of the UK economy—only 50 percent of these have a website and 30 percent lack even basic digital skills.

Looking forwards, the pace of change in the labour market will only increase. Artificial intelligence combined with robotic technologies are automating tasks previously unthinkable for a computer to do—from driving cars to writing newspaper reports. It’s estimated that 1/3 of UK jobs are at risk of automation over the next 10 – 20 years.

If UK plc is to remain competitive, employers have a key role to play in addressing this skills shortage and preparing the workforce for the future.

Finding a solution

At Accenture, we are committed to closing the digital skills divide. In the UK, our CSR programme Skills to Succeed, focuses on addressing youth unemployment by providing young people with the opportunity to build the skills they need to move into work or start their own business.

We recognise that delivering skills training effectively to young people all over the UK is a major challenge. However, by matching our own business and client experience with our technology capabilities we have created innovative ways to deliver our programmes at scale.

Our Skills to Succeed Academy for example has now skilled 35,000 young people online with core employability skills. More recently, we piloted a brand new mobile collaborative Digital skills learning platform, which covers topics in digital fundamentals such as marketing and social media.

Our job doesn’t stop with training alone. As one of the founding members of Movement to Work, Accenture along with 200+ other employers are providing young people with training and work experience placements to help them progress into entry level positions. To date, more than 40,000 placements have been delivered with over 50 percent of the young people successfully transitioning into work.

We also recognise the digital skills gap is a primary driver behind the slow uptake of technology by SMEs, impeding UK economic growth and productivity. So our Skills to Succeed programmes are also actively "stimulating demand" and connecting SMEs and charities lacking digital capabilities to individuals with the skills their organisations need to flourish. Since we launched our programme, we have supported over 100 digital traineeships every year with 43 percent of participants moving into roles with SMEs and another 140 joining Accenture’s Technology Apprenticeship schemes.

Whilst initiatives like begin to play a vital role to help address the digital skills gap in the UK, there is more to do. Businesses, particularly the tech sector, have an opportunity to play a key role in delivering better digital education to a wider audience. Businesses must collaborate when creating solutions to ensure focus, whilst also finding innovative ways to scale impact. And Government must set a clear direction and invest appropriately in digital education.

In the digital economy there are few absolutes, but one thing is clear—digital skills are fundamental to the sustained future growth and competiveness of the UK economy. Failure to respond is not an option.


Find out more about how Accenture is addressing the digital skills gap through volunteering.

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