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SME digital skills crisis sweeps nation

There is barely a corner of the British Isles that is not suffering the effects of a digital skills crisis

The calls for more to be done about the tech skills crisis can be heard right across the channel’s customer base with SMEs the latest to reveal their concerns.

Without skilled staff the prospects for growth will be more challenging as it will be harder for firms to realise their technology ambitions.

According to survey from Go.On, a charity that focuses on banging the drum for digital skills, there are a million small businesses in the UK that are lacking the right staff.

The charity has produced a heat map of where the worst problems are in conjunction with the BBC.

Along with 1 million SMEs lacking digital skills there are also 12m people not up to scratch and those problems are having an impact across almost all parts of the country, except for some pockets in Oxfordshire, North Yorkshire and Aberdeen, were all suffering.

The worst problems for digital skills shortages were in areas of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“It is not just individuals that are missing out on the benefits of being online. 23% of small businesses don’t have Basic Digital Skills,” stated the charity.

“Without Basic Digital Skills, these SMEs are missing out on their share of the UK’s annual website sales of £193bn. Not only that, but they also risk losing potential business because they can’t be found online, may be missing an opportunity to deliver a better, more efficient service to their customers, and may not be maximising their competitiveness,” Go.On added.

The danger for the channel is that the lack of skills could slow up some potential IT investments as well as making customers more unwilling to embark on projects that require an element of in-house expertise.

“The issue for SMEs, particularly with regards technology, is that the UK is in a skills lag and whilst this is being tackled for school age children, improvements will have little impact for SMEs in the short and medium term,” said John Morris, CEO of UK2 Group.

“It is vital in the short-term that businesses look to plug this skills latency. SMEs therefore need to focus resources on retraining those already in the workplace, using these easy-to-use technology platforms available to plug any skills gaps,” he added.
 
Morris quoted recent Department of Business, Innovation & Skills figures that showed only 64% of SMEs had a website and said there were missed opportunities because of a lack of digital skills.

“As website or app development software becomes easier to grasp, with simple processes that often require little or no technical expertise, SMEs are in a much better position than ever before to retrain current staff in order to plug the skills gap,” he said.
 
More is being done and there has been plenty of encouragement from the government to get firms to take on apprentices to provide fresh talent and a pool of labour that can be trained on the job.

Last week IT apprenticeship provider QA unveiled the first IT degree apprenticeship to try and make sure that the chances of success were even higher.

“Whilst we have been building the IT apprenticeship market, we have noticed the accelerated growth of the UK technology sector has created demand for graduate-level skills within the workplace,” said Ben Pike, director, QA Apprenticeships, “Since we already have a high level of employer engagement, we believe our new degree programmes are a compelling offer for businesses as a real alternative to traditional computer science degrees.”​

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