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Half of UK workforce lacks essential digital skills for work

A ‘hidden middle’ of more than 17 million people do not have the abilities needed to participate and contribute to the digital world in life and at work, study says

Millions of UK workers lack the digital skills needed to fully take part in the digital economy from a personal and professional standpoint, research has found.

Some 17 million people nationwide lack the essential digital skills (EDS) for work and life, according to a report by FutureDotNow, a coalition of organisations including BT, Asda, PwC and Nationwide, focusing on accelerating the UK’s workplace digital skills at scale.

On the other hand, the report suggests the challenge organisations face to reskill their workforces is significant, as only 23% of employees report having any digital skills training from employers. The research cites data from IMD world digital competitiveness 2020, where the UK ranks 41st in the world for employee training.

According to the report, other issues in relation to this “hidden middle” – individuals who possess very basic digital skills – include the negative impacts on business productivity and financial performance as the adoption of digital processes is slowed. This, the report noted, holds back businesses and reduces their competitiveness.

Too many businesses assume their employees have the essential digital skills for work because they can, for example, use smartphones, the report noted.

The research argued that most UK organisations are not addressing the need to equip their workforce with digital skills such as accessing payslips, booking shifts and leave, avoiding social media disasters, basic password practice, using cloud storage, analysing data, synchronising information across multiple devices and keeping viruses out of systems by identifying suspicious emails.

“There’s a significant part of our workforce without the essential digital skills required for the new global digital world we’re competing in,” said Liz Williams, chief executive at FutureDotNow, which has launched a playbook to help businesses assess the digital skills gaps of their workforce and how to address them.

“Great businesses are underpowered like smartphones with a flat battery because their workforces lack these essential digital skills,” she added.

The coalition has a goal of getting at least 75% of adults training from their employer and obtaining the essential digital skills for work by 2024.

A separate report, launched in March by research by the Learning and Work Institute in partnership with Enginuity and WorldSkills UK, found that young people know how important digital skills are, but don’t think they have the necessary level of skill for the workplace.

According to the research, young people polled have ability to communicate digitally or use common software. But when it comes to more complex digital skills, such as coding or using specialist software, only 18% said they thought they had these more advanced skills employers might need.

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