Byline: Dan Lewis
The coronavirus pandemic has shown first hand the importance of digital skills. During lockdown, millions of people have been relying on technology to work and stay connected from home.
Although lockdown restrictions are slowly being eased and offices are beginning to reopen, remote working is here to stay. In fact, a recent study conducted by O2, ICM and YouGov found that nearly half of workers (45%) want more flexible ways of working after lockdown.
Of course, it’s not just remote working where digital literacy becomes important. With businesses increasingly adopting new technologies like artificial intelligence, cloud platforms and data analytics, employees will need to continue developing new skills and adapting to change.
However, what’s alarming is that research shows how 11.3 million people don’t have the complete range of basic digital skills while 4.3 million people have none. Additionally, a survey by Korn Ferry found predicts a global shortfall of skilled workers where 85 million jobs are unfulfilled. Clearly, this needs to change. But how?
Why shortages happen
We’re in an incredibly exciting but somewhat daunting period at the moment, where automation and digitisation is accelerating at a rate of knots and technology keeps advancing quicker than most of us expect.
While there’s a lot of scaremongering over robots making humans redundant, the reality is we won’t have enough humans to fill the jobs that are available.
The issue is that they’ll be less traditional or unskilled roles, but a great deal more skilled ones. This shift in the balance is what is creating a major challenge for employers and nations alike, and one that needs fundamental change to address. And quick change at that.
Digital skills shortage falls down to three clear things
Fear: a lot of people fear technology. They see digital roles as roles for ‘techies’, and as such, would never consider re-skilling. This is a major cultural challenge that needs to be overcome by employers, educators and government alike.
Awareness: even when people decide to explore the advancement of their digital skills, potentially while at school or university, or as a driver to a potential career change, there simply isn’t enough awareness about how to go about developing digital skills, or how they can learn whilst working. It can easily become quite daunting.
Education: As technological advancement gathers more and more pace, our education systems are struggling to keep up. Once they catch up with one skill (e.g.; a particular coding language), the demand for that skill may start to reduce as a new one comes along to replace it. Education going forward needs to become an agile ‘whole career’ thing, not just age 5-21 schooling. Re-training will just become the done thing.
Why tech skills are important
The modern world is dominated by technology. Pretty much everything around us today is controlled by a computer, whether it’s the cars we drive, the TVs we watch or the phones we use to communicate with.
And changing habits in things like shopping, which has shifted heavily to online, and even social interaction, are ensuring technology is a core part of society – and not just a luxury good.
To respond to changing consumer habits, businesses are investing billions into technology. And a lot of that investment is in people and skills. There are various reasons why people should develop digital skills, but the main reason is so they can keep up. We all know how far things like mobile phones and cars have advanced in the last decade alone. Fast forward 10 or 20 years, and who knows where we’ll be.
The number of roles not requiring digital skills is already reducing rapidly, and it’ll be almost extinct in the coming decades. So, to guarantee a secure career and income, digital skills are paramount.
Closing the skills gap
We’re entering a fourth industrial revolution, which the World Economic Forum describes as “a fundamental change in the way we live, work and relate to one another” made possible thanks to “extraordinary technology advances”. We can’t just tinker and expect the skills gap to reduce.
This requires an evolved way of thinking, and an evolved way of educating. For starters, I think it’s important that both governments and employers are more honest and transparent up front with the workforce about the likely changes they’ll see.
By now, we all know that more traditional roles will continue to decline as technology takes over. So, it’s important that individuals get used to digital skills becoming a core part of every role and sector going forward. Tech is no longer just for ‘techies’.
Once we accept what’s coming and get over the fear, there’s a much higher chance that people will start to think forward and consider how they, personally, might be able to upskill and gain improved digital skills.
That’s where awareness and education comes in. We need to collectively do a better job at facilitating learning, remembering that everyone will have different learning styles and circumstances, such as families to feed and mortgages to pay, meaning going back to school isn’t always the answer. With that increased awareness and engagement in digital skills, there’s a good chance that, gradually, the existing workforce will start to move towards upskilling.
The major challenge then comes with education of those aged 5-21. In my mind, the education system needs to overhaul and put digital first – both in terms of what they teach and, crucially, how they teach. My maths teacher always used to say I’d not have the luxury of always having a calculator with me. Well, we now know that he’s been proved wrong.
Ultimately, we are only going to address the digital skills gap once and for all if more and more of our children leave school and university well prepared for the world they will build a career in. And it will be a digital one.