The digital skills gap: What it means and why it matters to your business

I'm sure you're aware of the looming "digital skills gap" and the terrifying figures (£2 billion) attached to not addressing the problem. However in order to find a solution to the digital skills crisis, we must first define exactly what digital skills are.

In this article ITProPortal spoke to Nick Millman, managing director at Accenture Digital UK, about defining what digital skills are and how the gap will affect your business.

What are digital skills?

Something often skipped over or simply avoided is explaining what is meant by "digital skills". The reason for this is that the term "digital skills" encompasses a broad range of subjects and fields. Millman told us that the "foundational level of digital understanding" is comprised of four key areas:

  • "How you use digital to improve the customer experience"
  • "How you use digital to improve business efficiency"
  • "How to make it easy for employees to accomplish tasks in a fulfilling way"
  • "How to use digital skills for social good"

A basic level of digital skills (i.e. how to use a computer, how to choose the right software for a task, how to stay digitally safe) is already imprinted in the next generation of graduates as they've grown-up using digital tools. When we talk about digital skills we're actually talking about the ability to process, interpret, and utilise information, skills such as:

  • Data requirement analysis: the ability to and define what information is required to complete a task
  • Data assessment: the ability to determine data's quality, value, and relevance in different contexts
  • Data interpretation: the ability to turn information into business insights, analyse trends and how to compare or combine relevant data sets
  • Data application: the ability to implement the data into real-world strategies Collaboration: the ability to communicate effectively with others and work toward a common goal
  • Digital creation: the ability to produce digital-based objects such as; apps, websites, engaging interfaces and so on

You'll notice that the majority of the skills relate to the manipulation of data, this is due to the rise of the raw data provided by both the Internet of Things and businesses leveraging big data.

Read more: Demystifying cloud computing jargon: A guide to understanding the future of IT infrastructure

Why do I need people with digital skills?

Unless you begin to integrate digital technology into your business you'll be playing catch-up with enterprises that adopted these technologies. As over-hyped and seemingly meaningless the terms "the Internet of things" and "big data" seem they are evolving how business is conducted.

The level of insight that big data can provide is revolutionary in terms of understanding consumer-behaviour, quickly spotting market trends, and risk comprehension. Similarly the amount of monitoring achievable through the Internet of Things makes increasing employee productivity, maximising logistic efficiency, and knowing how to make the most of your resources possible.

Read more: Staying up-to-date technologically will dramatically increase your business revenue, here's why

When asked about the kinds of roles that businesses will need to fill in order to operate competitively Millman gave three examples; "some of those new roles will be things like data scientists. A role that will certainly grow in importance is developing the user experience and graphical design... there's another role for people who can take data and turn it into something visual making it easier for people to use."

It's unlikely you'll need these sorts of people immediately, every business will have unique needs and tasks requiring those with digital skills. Therefore a digital strategy should be developed before looking to fill these roles. For example if you operate a retail business, you may be more interested in producing an attractive, usable website to enhance your online channel which would require someone with graphical design prowess and web development knowledge.

Another broader example that applies to most enterprises is setting up a system to analyse how clients or customers use your product or service, which would require someone who could interpret user data. This person would translate the user data into a way to discover and enhance particularly useful features of your product and discover why other features of your product are underutilised.

What can my business do to help?

"The key thing is awareness and some kind of hands-on experience" Millman stated. Your business should develop a digital strategy and relay to universities the kind of skills you require to fill the roles you identify.

If you've already got a digital strategy in play, talk to students about what skills and knowledge base they need to develop to have a career in your enterprise.

"Organisations and the education sector need to be clear about the prospects of digital skills" Millman revealed.

Ultimately your organisation's role is developing awareness about the necessity of digital skills and influencing the next generation of employees to develop skills that your organisation can use. This can be accomplished by attending career days, giving educational institutions advice on creating employable students, and thinking about how your business can take advantage of the level of data analysis now available to you.

Is there a current tech topic you'd like explored or a digital skill you think we missed? Let us know what you think in the comments section below, or stop by for a chat with the ITProPortal team and other readers on ITProPortal's tech talk live chat.