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What can UK businesses do to close the technology skills gap?

With £63 billion at risk of being lost from the UK economy each year as a result of the digital skills gap, as British citizens, we can all stand to gain if we make an effort to plug the gap. Currently, the UK has the largest digital economy in the G20 but with growth of 15 per cent expected next year; the digital skills deficit we’re experiencing now is only likely to worsen before the situation gets better. But what is the solution and who can deliver it? 

Of course the Government has a large part to play in ensuring the UK has the skills to remain competitive in the global digital industry. And we are already seeing promising levels of investment in key digital sectors such as cyber security with the launch of the new National Cyber Security Centre in October and the Government’s confirmation of a £1.9 billion cyber security strategy. 

UK businesses also have a responsibility to help resolve the skills gap; after all they are the ones who are suffering as a result of a lack of digital skills. This was confirmed in a report earlier this year by the Science and Technology Committee, which unearthed that 93 per cent of businesses believe the skills gap is affecting their commercial operations. And it’s not just businesses operating within the technology sectors that are adversely affected by this issue. With 90 per cent of jobs now requiring digital skills, businesses across all sectors need to help address the skills shortage.  

The solutions

I believe there are four solutions that can help close the technology skills gap:   

  • Solution 1: Maximise digital talent
  • Solution 2: Look to the future
  • Solution 3: Forge key collaborations
  • Solution 4: Bring digital expertise to the forefront of the agenda

Solution 1: Maximise digital talent

Firstly, UK businesses need to be aware of the digital talent that is already out there and take advantage of it. They should evaluate what skills they already have in their business and make the most of each employee’s individual strengths. Where there are gaps in knowledge, businesses should consider whether their existing employees could undergo training to bring the necessary skills into the business. 

Not only will this help the business gain the technical skills it requires but it also offers employees opportunities for professional development, which in turn will encourage them to remain loyal to the company. Staff retention is all the more important in a skills short market.  

Solution 2: Look to the future

Secondly, for businesses and the UK as a whole to remain competitive, establishing a future talent pipeline is key. This is about having a forward-thinking strategy for recruitment and also helping to encourage and nurture tech talent at a grass roots level.  

The fast-paced nature of technology demands that businesses adopt a long-term strategy across recruitment and operations to ensure they stay ahead of the curve and continue to meet the increasing expectations of customers in today’s digital world. In five years’ time, if a business hasn’t considered utilising at least some cloud services, they are likely to struggle to be as efficient as their more forward-thinking competitors who will be more agile. This ability to meet new challenges and changing markets more quickly will be vital and technology has a huge part to play.  

One main reason for the current skills gap is due to a lack of younger people studying the right subject to go into careers within technology disciplines. The number of students choosing to study ICT at A level has fallen by 3,300 in the past five years and this year it was one of the subjects with the lowest pass rates, alongside media, film and TV studies. On top of this, a large proportion of teachers lack the relevant qualification in the tech subject they teach – the aforementioned report from the Science and Technology Committee confirmed this in their finding that only 35 per cent of computer science teachers have a relevant qualification. So what can UK businesses do about this? Collaborate.

Solution 3: Forge key collaborations

Businesses across the UK need to unite with educational bodies, professional institutions and government departments to lead and participate in initiatives which help to encourage young people to consider careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). It is crucial that we take steps to inspire the future workforce within these sectors if we are to avoid the skills gap widening in the future. 

Businesses can also take an active role in advising key decision makers about what skills are needed in the workplace and help to inform a more relevant curriculum that will benefit students, employees and these companies themselves.

Solution 4: Bring digital expertise to the forefront of the agenda

Lastly, the skills gap and the importance of digital skills needs to be at the forefront of government and business agendas. The Government is already taking strides towards transforming the UK’s digital profile but the momentum must be maintained if we’re going to get ahead and stay ahead of our international peers. Businesses also need to have a digital strategy of their own. One way to keep digital on the agenda is by having digital presence at board level, for example, with a Chief Digital Officer. 

This works most effectively when working alongside a CIO and a CTO at C-level to influence and drive business change and behaviours as well as overseeing transitions from traditional IT infrastructure. The ownership for this can then be passed down to all levels of the business with common goals and milestones. Clearly there is a long way to go before we can start closing the tech skills gap but the more we raise the profile of this issue, the more likely it is we can do something about it. Collaboration across business, government and education is key to monitoring the extent of the skills gap and drive change to help overcome it. If we do, both businesses and the economy can reap the benefits of a highly skilled and plentiful digital workforce.

Image source: Shutterstock/Duncan Andison
James Smith, Managing Director of
Networkers, Technology Recruitment