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UK’s persistent digital skills gap poses risk to economic recovery

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A majority (69%) of UK leaders have said they believe their organisation currently has a digital skills gap, and 70% expect one to develop over the next year.

According to a new report from Microsoft UK, the impact of COVID-19 and the acceleration of digital in 2020 has thrown the UK’s digital skills gap into focus as organisations look to respond, recover and reimagine operations.

Of those surveyed, 32% of C-level executives said that upskilling employees is a top priority in the next six months. A further 80% of leaders said they believe investment in digital skills will be important to the country’s economic recovery.

Employees also reportedly feel as though overcoming the digital skills gap is important for the future.

Fifty-nine per cent of those surveyed said developing their digital skills will be important to their employability after COVID-19, and 70% said they feel that access to digital skills is vital for economic and social inclusion.

The main barriers to helping remedy the skills gap identified by leaders were cost (37%) and lack of skills strategy (28%).

Speaking to HR magazine, Simon Lambert, chief learning officer at Microsoft UK said: “Awareness is the first step to action. There is a sense of urgency to act now but what’s preventing them is, understandably, cost, the second obstacle is the lack of a skills investment strategy and the third is not knowing what skills initiatives to focus on.

“It’s a new era of investment, collaboration, commitment from both employees and employers and the government alike. Especially as we continue to respond, recover and move on post-COVID.”

Quoted in the report, CIPD CEO Peter Cheese, said: “We underinvest in our people in the workplace and now need to strengthen alignment between education, employment and lifelong learning.”

More than two in five UK leaders (44%) reported that they fear the current lack of digital skills within their organisation will have a negative impact on their success in the next year.

A further 63% of employees said they do not think they have the appropriate digital skills to fulfil new and emerging roles in their industry.

Lambert added: “Equipping all employees with strong digital skills is not just a commercial imperative but a societal one. A way to overcome barriers of inequality and regional imbalance while also fostering greater diversity, inclusion and economic growth.”

The Unlocking the UK’s potential with digital skills report was conducted in partnership with YouGov and academics led by Chris Brauer, Goldsmiths, University of London.