Digital skills will make or break the UK


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A report from the Digital Skills Committee, released this month, has explored how the UK is currently failing to address its digital skills shortage.

Given that digital is undeniably the future, this is an important issue. Digital skills are shaping the future of the UK, as they have a direct impact on people’s productivity. Studies have shown that by 2017 the UK will need 750,000 skilled digital workers, and that failure to produce these workers could cost the economy as much as £2 billion annually.

With this in mind, why is the UK still failing to address such an important issue? I think that this is largely because, as a nation, we still see the acquisition of digital skills as a bonus, and ‘nice-to-have’, rather than an essential part of our personal and professional lives.

It is important that we work to change this perspective, and realise that learning and using digital skills is a requirement from childhood education all the way up to professional training in the workplace. It is especially crucial to address ongoing concerns regarding privacy and protection. Ignorance is no longer an option; both professionally and personally.

My colleague Zach Thompson and I recently began a project called the #27hrdigitalday (27-hour digital day). This was designed to create full awareness of the many digital tools available to both individuals and organisations that can help us in our daily lives. The project is all about demonstrating how through effective training, these digital tools can facilitate an increase in workplace productivity.

Employers have been reluctant to digitise the workplace, and perhaps for good reason. It’s no secret that we’re becoming increasingly dependent on our smartphones, and they can be an ever-present distraction. However, when used correctly, they can help us to become ‘digitally smarter’ and get more out of our day.

For example, technology is changing the nature of the working day in itself. Working from home was once reserved for the elite few; those in positions of seniority, for example. Remote office access and 24/7 connectivity now means that more people are able to embrace this greater flexibility and independence, and are trusted to do so by their employers as in the event of any dispute over productivity, digital records can be checked and working time verified.

I’m by no means encouraging over-vigilance, but the knowledge that this information is readily available is security enough for concerned employers. Besides, giving employees greater independence often increases their own motivation and productivity, as they feel more positively towards their company.

So what is the future of digital skills? Many big companies, Barclays being just one example, are actively promoting digital literacy among their older customer bases, and are providing the resources necessary to achieve this. However, the government does need to do more to support individuals in general, as well as encouraging businesses to embrace a digital future. This will help to promote a society of digital literates, and increase productivity dramatically.

Babawande Sheba is head of department (Logistics and Operations) at GSM London

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