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Tackling digital skills gap post-pandemic is key to UK economic recovery

We have all – as individuals and businesses – seen the importance of technology to get us through lockdown. Let’s build on that to address the digital skills shortage in the UK

Over the past few months, we have all been using technology more. As we emerge out of lockdown with restaurants and pubs once again replacing online quizzes as our favoured way to connect and socialise with each other, TechUK wanted to understand how the British public felt about the technology that overnight had become ever more present in their lives.

The headline that 84% of respondents cannot imagine life without the internet may seem striking, but this is consistent with how people felt about technology before the pandemic, when comparing the results with the Ipsos Global Trend Survey (GTS) conducted in June-July 2019.

However, our latest survey revealed that most respondents (78%) thought the importance of tech would increase as a result of Covid-19 and the lockdown. This is a pretty prominent view in the business community, with 74% of managers and decision-makers surveyed believing businesses will be more dependent on tech as a result of the pandemic.

A digital nudge

The Covid-19 crisis has provided a nudge for many people to use digital technologies for the first time. To take financial management as an example, since lockdown began the volumes of people aged over 40 registering for digital banking significantly overtook those of 2019; and among those aged 70-79, the proportion of registrations in the week commencing 22 April were three times greater than during the same week in 2019.

The silver lining has been that out of necessity has come greater confidence – 31% of respondents in our latest survey declared they have become more confident using digital technology since the restrictions on daily life have been in place in the UK.

This increased level of confidence could mark a sea-change as businesses look to make significant changes as they adapt to the “new normal”. Government should seize on this new-found confidence as an opportunity to drive productivity growth through the provision of peer-to-peer networking and advice provided, for example, by the Be the business campaign and by providing incentives to support the uptake of digital technologies.

The survey showed a real recognition of the importance of digital skills. Out of those surveyed in June, eight out of 10 respondents agreed that “digital skills will become more important in the next 12 months”.

The polling suggests that people are much more motivated to upskill and reskill, with 58% of respondents claiming an interest in gaining more digital skills over the same period of time. The level of interest is even higher among those aged 16-24 (73%) and 25-34 (75%), which suggests that this could be a powerful moment to accelerate digital skills in the UK’s workforce.

Equality and inclusion

To help provide opportunities for all to digitally skill and reskill, the tech industry has worked together with the Department for Education on the skills toolkit, a new online learning platform to help boost the nation’s skills while people stay at home.

Cisco’s Networking Academy, which looks to transform the lives of learners, educators and communities through the power of technology, is one company contributing to the skills toolkit and has seen usage increase by 45% in the UK over the past year.

The pandemic has escalated the need to challenge inequities and drive inclusivity. We should not let this opportunity pass to provide equal access for all to digitally skill and meet the needs of society today and in the future. We should be bold and radical in our response, driving a reskilling revolution to develop diverse talent and skills across the UK.

Young people have been hit hardest by the economic fallout of Covid-19. The Resolution Foundation predicts that youth unemployment will reach one million by the end of the year. So, as the government looks to support this generation back into work, we urge them to seize the moment.

We have a unique opportunity to equip people with the skills that are most in demand across the economy, providing an efficient and effective route to get people back into work while we also address the skills gap which is holding business back and costing the UK economy £4.4bn a year. So, let’s do this. Let’s build the skills base that can put people and the economy back on the route to growth.

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Survey notes:

Research was carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of TechUK. It surveyed a nationally representative quota sample of 2,190 online adults in Great Britain aged 16-75 across two different waves (1,095 sample on each) using its online I:Omnibus.

Wave 1 ran 13-14 May 2020 and wave 2 ran between 10-11 June 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status and social grade.

The design and analysis of the survey was conducted by TechUK, with Ipsos MORI responsible for data collection. The survey data referenced is based on the wave 2 survey conducted in June 2020.

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