Digital skills training needs a step change if UK is to compete post-Brexit

digital strategy

Accounts of the digital skills shortage are rife in the media, with various stakeholders coming forward with reports of a growing gulf between technology, and the talent required to manage it.

And at Davos earlier this year, Theresa May announced the Government’s solution; the introduction of an ‘Institute of Coding’, which would give universities and employers access to £20 million in funding to boost digital talent.

David Willett, Corporate Director, at The Open University explains that While it’s encouraging to see that this issue is being taken seriously by Government, this is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to managing technological change in the workplace. Organisations that rest on their laurels, and wait for the issue to resolve itself, risk being left behind by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

And with March 2019 not far away, and continued uncertainty around the future of access to overseas talent, organisations must now start considering how they will build competitive workforces in a post-Brexit world.

The skills shortage

The UK is in the grips of a digital skills crisis, with over a third of employers reporting issues with recruiting digital skills over the last year. This issue is beginning to negatively influence the UK’s performance on the international stage, as the latest World Economic Forum data sees the UK slip two places in the ranking of the world’s most competitive economies, with communication technology credited as the UK’s greatest area of weakness

But with Brexit on the horizon, these issues mark the start of a downward trend in the performance and skills of the UK workforce. A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee highlighted the potential risks of Brexit on digital skills, which the committee identified as ‘crucial’ to the future of business following the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Any potential talent exodus in the tech sector would not only affect businesses with a digital focus, but all organisations in the UK, which are coming to rely on technology more and more, so we must act now to address the deficit. With mounting pressure on organisations to increase productivity to compete on an international level, a work-based approach makes most sense for promoting a learning culture, and ensuring organisations stay up to date with digital development.

The step change

As two thirds of the workforce of 2030 are already in the labour market, we cannot lay responsibility for addressing the skills shortage solely at the door of schools. Organisations that are looking to overcome the skills shortage, and further potential difficulties posed by Brexit, will need to look to their existing workforce as the means to fill gaps.

And it’s not only the youngest and most junior members of the workforce that require investment when it comes to skills. With an ageing population and employees working longer, investment is needed at all levels of seniority to ensure organisations remain competitive and productive. Promoting lifelong learning allows organisations to enhance their workforce at this economically and politically uncertain time, enabling them to adapt to changing business needs and any wider economic changes on the horizon.

The apprenticeship levy gives employers the opportunity to naturally incorporate learning and development into their workplace culture. And with UK businesses fast approaching their levy deadline organisations risk losing millions in potential funding, which will be absorbed by the government if it remains unspent.

The wide range of qualifications available through the levy allows employers to use the funding to boost digital skills throughout their organisation. From the degree level Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Apprenticeship to the Level 2 Intermediate Digital qualification, business leaders can make use of ring-fenced funding to plug their digital skills gaps and modernise their organisations.

So, with studies already painting a bleak picture for the UK’s current ability to compete on the digital stage, and Brexit likely to disrupt the workforce further, workplace training and the development of much-needed skills needs to be a priority.

The apprenticeship levy provides an incentive for employers to tackle the issues sooner, rather than later. And the latest Budget has made workplace training even more accessible to organisations of all sizes, with the training fees for SMEs halved, to just a five per cent contribution. Investing in the talent of existing employees will not only promote loyalty and retention, but prepare workforces for the challenges that political, technological and economic changes may throw at them.