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The skills gap – Survival of the digitally fittest

Technology constantly surrounds us. How many times a day do we come into contact with digital media or a connected device without even registering that we have? From mobile phones to laptops and tablets, technology has become deeply embedded in our lives and impossible to escape from.

In other words, we are firmly in the age of digital transformation, where technology impacts every facet our lives, both personal and professional, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

As the pace of technology continues to increase and evolve, businesses are being faced with a new reality. One where our workforce is struggling to keep up with the speed of this change. In order for businesses to survive in this day and age, their employees must not only be equipped with the specific skill-set needed to excel in their career of choice, but also possess digital skills.

The UK is one of the fastest growing digital economies in the G20 and we must embrace cutting edge digital technology to up-skill employees. The marketplace is a jungle and only the digitally fittest will survive.

What are digital skills?

Broadly speaking, having digital skills is having the ability to use a broad range of digital devices including computers, tablets and laptops competently. GO.ON UK (opens in new tab), a charity dedicated to improving the digital skills of people across the UK, use a measurement framework (opens in new tab) of the following topics to determine digital literacy:

  • Managing information – find, manage and store digital information and content
  • Communicating – communicate, interact, collaborate, share and connect with others
  • Transaction – purchase and sell goods and services; organise your finances and use digital government services
  • Problem-solving – increase independence and confidence by solving problems using digital tools and finding solutions
  • Creating – engage with communities and create digital content

By being able to successfully carry out the above on digital devices, individuals are able to command a basic knowledge of digital devices.

Digital skills are something that we can no longer afford to hide from. A recent report by GO.ON UK, revealed that in the UK over 12 million people (opens in new tab) are falling into the digital skills gap. This is an astounding figure, almost a quarter of the UK population is in danger of missing out on the digital revolution. Not only does this affect individual employees and businesses but it has major implications for the long term future of the economy. If this issues is not addressed, how will our workforce be able to keep pace?

The report also highlighted that more than a million small businesses (opens in new tab) do not possess the basic digital skills necessary skills to succeed. From having the ability to use a search engine to completing online transactions, many of things we take for granted are a daily struggle for small businesses. In order for the UK to stay competitive with other leading economies, we need to ensurse our businesses and employees are equipped to cope with digital technology otherwise we will not survive.

What has caused the digital skills gap?

Simply put, technology has been the primary facilitator in the digital skills gap. Since the late 1980’s there have been three different generations of technology users and the latest are the millennials, who now make up the majority of the workforce.

The huge expansion of software is also playing a major part in the digital era and in driving the digital skills gap. The meteoric rise of cloud has meant that technology is no longer always a physical entity, if you look at consumer services such as Netflix and Spotify – technology is selling a subscription and business technology is no different. Take software for example, in order to keep innovation and ensure the long-term investment of customers, these companies are bringing out product updates every few months. How many times in the last year alone, has Apple launched a new iOS?

The rise is BYOD coupled with the consumerisation of IT has meant that we no longer work as part of a simple food chain, but instead as part of a more complex ecosystem. The days of businesses having one computer, in one office with one Windows license, have vanished. The evolution of technology has meant that employees might learn a digital skill today, but if they don’t constantly update this knowledge it will soon become useless.

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report (opens in new tab), the knowledge we consume is doubling every year, and as a result the half-life for acquired skills is now only 2.5 to 5 years. Any new skill learnt today, will only be as 25 per cent as useful in five years as it is now. Therefore it’s imperative that organisations recognise the needs of their workforce to be constantly learning and developing their digital skills. This is where the importance of on-the-job training cannot be underestimated.

Particularly with the rise of BYOD, employees need to be able to learn on any device, at any place, at any time and from anywhere. Learning is no longer dictated from the top down, instead more and more people are learning using a bottom up approach, when they want and how they want. The future is self-directed learning, allowing employees to develop the digital skills and solutions they need, when they need them. Not only does it empower the workforce but allows them to determine their own learning programme.

How do we stop the gap from widening?

In order to stop the digital skills gap from widening, its imperative businesses ensure that everybody has access to training. As mentioned previously, companies need to make sure their learning solutions are user centric and mobile. All good solutions providers’ guarantee employees are able to access training materials as and when they need to improve their digital skills. Learning is now all about fostering an environment of self-reliance, where employees are able to incorporate development into their everyday lives.

Another important step to take to help employees improve their digital skills is by understanding the importance of having HR and IT departments working together in tandem. With the explosion of the cloud, technology has become a subscription and effectively become an operational cost. Therefore it’s in the best interests of CIO’s educate HR managers and help reduce desk costs by employing a training solution that will reduce the number of unnecessary calls on computer-related questions. The success of any training solution based in the cloud depends on the involvement of the IT department and their desire to help.

Additionally it’s also essential that businesses keep up with their software updates. Due to the increased frequency of these updates, employees must ensure they are continuously renewing their digital skills and leaning how these work and differ from previous versions. This will be done by ensuring that businesses have proactively implemented a future-proof training solution that is flexible, agile and constantly upgrading itself.

As we continue to divulge deeper into the digital era, businesses and their employees cannot afford to be outstripped by the pace of technology. Instead they need to ensure they are standing toe-to-toe and continuously updating their digital knowledge to keep up with the pace of change. Organisations will be unable to take advantage of advancements in technology until they learn the importance of enchanting the digital skills of their employees. Investment in human capital is just as important as investment in technology.

A business is nothing without its employees. In order to survive in today’s environment, businesses need to ensure they are continuously developing the digital skills of their workforce.

Kevin Young, Vice President and General Manager, EMEA at Skillsoft (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/Nomad_Soul