Addressing the UK digital skills crisis

A recent report published by the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee stated that approximately 12.6 million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills. This IT skills gap is affecting businesses across industries, from financial services and local authorities to retail and manufacturing.   

The technological revolution of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century has brought with it significant changes. Not only has it fundamentally changed the way businesses operate, it has significantly increased the volume of data available to us. We can now monitor and track every process in detail, gaining valuable information and insights in the process.   

Unfortunately, as the House of Commons found, digital skills have struggled to keep up with demand. As such, business management teams repeatedly encounter difficulties with aspects of operation and even recruitment. In fact, 72 per cent of employers have expressed unwillingness to consider potential candidates lacking these skills. This is understandable, but problematic in the midst of a skills crisis.

Tackling the gap

Interestingly, this latest report was commissioned as a result of a previous report — the big data dilemma report in February 2016 — that identified, “the risk of a growing data analytics skills gap as big data reaches further into the economy”. This is a pressing concern, because the ability to analyse data effectively directly influences the strategy of decision makers.

For example, most businesses can use data analytics to identify opportunities to improve operational processes and achieve time and cost savings. However, this can only be done if staff have the skills to interact with this data and pick out the actionable information. 

While this can be done by specialist staff, recruitment increases costs and relying on IT departments can limit the amount of real-time practical insight.

So how can businesses tackle the digital skills gap? The most obvious approach is by investing in upskilling programmes to ensure staff are fully competent using business IT systems. However, this is a long-term objective that will do little to make an impact in the more immediate future.

Improving the upskilling process

Fortunately, businesses can make some small changes to improve the upskilling process. While some software companies are already pushing towards self-service data analytics, which sees analysis tools move out of the IT department and into the wider workforce, only 16 per cent of business executives can adequately use those tools.   

This is where search-based analytics software, such as Connexica’s CXAIR, can be used to bridge the skills gap. Using natural language search, the same format found in search engines, makes business intelligence accessible and actionable on a wider scale. Changing the way that users interact with the tools directly can remove the unnecessary technical barriers to business intelligence.   

Of course, this doesn’t remove the importance of trained data analysts and scientists. Technically trained staff can provide complex analysis maintain systems and build data models. These are tasks that cannot be completed without advanced digital skill sets.   

It is clear that the UK government must introduce a digital strategy to improve the IT skills held by future generations, while businesses need to invest in upskilling schemes to boost the competencies of existing staff. Search-based analytics can ensure that business strategy does not suffer, but it remains essential that staff develop the skills to keep businesses ahead of the technological curve.

Greg Richards, Sales and Marketing Director, Connexica
Image source: Shutterstock/Duncan Andison