Bridging the UK’s persistent productivity and digital skills gap 0

Digital skillsTwo of the most persistent and related structural problems facing the UK economy are the productivity and digital skills gaps. Earlier this month, the Office for National Statistics reported that there had been a further 1.2 percent fall in productivity. Part of the reason for this is that there is an underlying digital skills gap. According to a report from Barclays, nearly a third (31 percent) of working-age adults in the UK lack even basic digital problem-solving skills which places the country comfortably below the 37 percent average across OECD countries. Despite this, a mere 38 percent of UK employers offer their workers digital skills training, perhaps because on the other side of the coin, the UK ranks highly in what the report calls ‘digital empowerment’, which it defines as  ‘the ability and desire to use one’s digital skills to work productively and creatively, and to have the opportunity to continually upgrade them to keep pace with changing technology’.

The report, From Inclusion to Empowerment: The Barclays Digital Development Index, found that Estonia and South Korea are joint leaders in digital empowerment, followed by Sweden then the UK in fourth place. Other countries in the top ten are then China, the US, India, Germany, Brazil and South Africa. The UK also ranks seventh out of ten when it came to content-creation and coding skills, according to the report.

Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, organisations must keep pace with rapid change in the near future as a result of a growing use of technology. “Not even the industrial revolution was as transformative as the coming digital age,” he said. “We can already glimpse the extent of this change in the way we order a taxi, do our shopping or book a holiday – and this is only the beginning. The old ways of doing things will become obsolete, traditional skills are less relevant, and businesses grow or fail at speeds never previously thought possible. In this new world of disruptive innovation and digital advancement, it is those individuals, businesses and societies who have the greatest level of access, ability and understanding who will continue to prosper. Those which have the least will fall behind and find it progressively harder to catch up.”

One initiative that is attempting to bride this gap has announced the creation of a number of new academies. Five Microsoft and Risual academies are to be established with colleges across the UK, focussed particularly on those areas with the widest skills gaps.

The announcement cites a survey from Go.on, an organisation that encourages people to use technology, found that 23 percent of adults in the UK – an estimated 12.6 million – lack the five basic digital skills – the ability to manage personal information without phoning a more technically able relative, being able to communicate online, managing financial data including making payments, solving problems and the ability to create things with imaging tools.

Cardiff and Vale College is the first Microsoft and Risual academy in Wales, which has the lowest levels of internet access in the UK and poor knowledge of digital skills, on average.The Welsh academy, at Cardiff and Vale College’s landmark £45m City Centre Campus in the Cardiff Central Enterprise Zone, will aim to boost students’ existing tech skills to create a digitally literate workforce for businesses across the region. Pupils will also earn Microsoft qualifications via workshops with industry experts and have the chance to land apprenticeships with Microsoft units.

Steve Beswick, Senior Director for Education and Charities at Microsoft UK, said: “Digital skills are vital to building a vibrant economy both now and in the future. We are delighted to be working with Cardiff and Vale College and Risual to open this Academy, which will be a centre of digital excellence and inspiration for students, teachers and employers in Cardiff and beyond. With the digital sector worth more than £600 million to the Welsh economy and making up 6 percent of the total UK economy, the Microsoft Academy will provide much-needed digital skills to employers across the country.”