A new study commissioned by Barclays has found that UK businesses are doing too little to improve their employees’ digital competence.

While nearly half (47 per cent) of the large and medium businesses surveyed agreed that enhanced digital skills would improve their workforces’ productivity, their investment in digital upskilling (£109 per employee per annum) remains too low to achieve the desired outcomes.

Thirty-four per cent of employers reported difficulty in implementing the right training to make up for their digital skills deficits. Forty per cent said they were instead seeking to hire younger, more digitally-informed candidates, while 45 per cent believed that older employees were often slower to become digitally competent. On average, a third (33 per cent) reported that only a small proportion of their workforce currently possessed the necessary digital skills for their roles (the proportion rose to 45 per cent amongst medium-sized firms).

Twenty-seven per cent of employers put data and device protection knowledge as the most necessary skill to seek in new employees, reflecting rising concerns about cyber and information security.

Other priority digital skills identified by employers include:

  • Competence in analysing large data sets (23 per cent).
  • Effective use of social media (21 per cent).
  • Competence in using cloud-based services and tools for storage and collaboration (20 per cent).
  • Proficiency in elementary design skills (19 per cent).
  • Elementary knowledge of website construction (16 per cent).
  • Competence in coding (15 per cent).
  • Competent in the production of video content (10 per cent).

Despite this growing concern, UK businesses, the study found, are falling well short of the investments needed to close their digital skills gaps: only 19 per cent of the businesses survey intend to increase their digital skills investment budgets over the next five years.

One resource open to UK businesses, given the budgetary constraints on further skills investment, is to draft in skilled IT contracting professionals on a time-limited project basis to make up the shortfall, especially where business-critical missions are at stake or when a surge of demand requires temporary workforce enhancement.

This may, however, prove a more difficult option than previously, as many IT pros contracting as Umbrella Company Employees may be far less prepared to travel to distant temporary workplaces as they have traditionally done, thanks to the Chancellor’s recent abolition of tax relief on their considerable travel and subsistence expenses.

Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK, said: “Together with government, businesses and society as a whole, we need to raise our sights beyond basic inclusion and aim to create a Britain of true digital confidence at all levels of the workforce. We are at a tipping point when it comes to digital skills and the UK must act now to ensure we are not left behind.”

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