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Digital skills: the only way is ‘up’

Digital skills: the only way is ‘up’

With many employees now working remotely and organisations having to accelerate a shift to  online services, it’s no surprise that digital upskilling and digitisation are a top priority.

The pandemic has only accentuated what we already knew – that we are faced with an acute digital skills shortage. World Economic Forum (WEF) research estimates that over half of employees will need reskilling by 2022 while European Commission findings have revealed that more than 1 in 3 workers don’t even have basic digital skills.  

Companies such as PwC and Amazon have committed billions of dollars to training their people and investing in technologies to support their clients. Microsoft recently launched an initiative to help 25 million people acquire the skills needed in a COVID-19 world. Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Economy Secretary recently announced that its Flexible Workforce Development Fund – which helps employers upskill and reskill their staff – would be doubled from £10m to £20m for 2020/21.

Clearly, there are different levels of knowledge required. The Department of Education in the UK’s essential skills framework comprises five categories of essential skills: communicating, handling information and content, transacting, problem solving and being safe and legal online. At the more specialist end, you have programming, data science, data analytics, cloud computing, AI and robotics.

Lost opportunity

With more people now working remotely, companies are having to rely even more on their IT and cybersecurity experts to not only provide the ongoing support needed to ensure that all staff have the tools to do their jobs but to make sure their systems are protected from cyberattacks. Whether through internal or external programmes, it is imperative that staff have access to the training they need to keep up with the pace of digital change.

And with soft skills becoming so important, especially in a virtual world in which so much is done remotely, when it comes to upskilling, organisations must not for example ignore older workers who have so much experience and a wealth of knowledge to impart. The same applies to the neurodiverse such as those with autism who can excel in jobs that require precision and concentration, such as coding.   

With the digital sector showing signs of recovery in the UK – it already employs three million workers – there will be even greater demand for people with the right digital skills. The focus of London Tech Week (September 2020) was very aptly on retraining workers to fill those specialist roles. For organisations that don’t heed the message, this will inevitably lead to people leaving and looking for opportunities elsewhere. For the government and the economy, millions in lost revenue and yet more productivity woes.

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