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UK Digital Skills Gap: How we can tackle this growing problem

Over the next decade, roughly £21.8 billion worth of economic benefits and opportunities associated with digital literacy are at risk in the UK. This potential loss of billions stems from the fact that an estimated seven million Britons (or 12% of the national population) are still not equipped with the skills necessary to work and grow in today’s increasingly digitised and automated world.

Streamlined by new technologies

Citing data from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, Telegraph journalist Matthew Field reports that this threatens the UK population’s ability to access and modify the most basic of benefits, including banking, flight booking, passport renewal, bills payment, and everything else that has been streamlined by new digital technologies. Additionally, major industries are also moving deeper into the digital age, while their employees’ digital skills gap widens. Currently, in the UK, where digital literacy has become a must to survive, millions are getting left behind – a digital skills gap that threatens to leave the entire country in the wake of countries who are far more digitally literate.

Time to Act

Both the private and public sectors are already taking steps to tackle this potentially huge and expensive problem. In fact, the UK Government recently pledged £1 million to aid in helping boost digital literacy, including an additional £400,000 for the elderly. Approximately 28% of UK citizens over the age of 60 are estimated to be digitally illiterate, which significantly limits their access to elderly benefits as well as many private and government services that could be easily accessed online. The UK’s digital minister Margot James has explained that the government’s £1.4 million pledge will go a long way in ensuring that in this race to become digital savvy, no one in the UK gets left behind.

In the private sector, perhaps one of the biggest examples of mass digital literacy education is how digital automation is changing the face of the UK and international logistics industry. Many companies have implemented technology that provides complex telematics data from GPS and other tracking devices. As a result, entire operations are now using connected technologies to streamline work processes for both efficiency, as well as safety, which in turn requires skilled employees to use the necessary hardware and software to analyse and interpret the data. An overview of the current state of advanced GPS software by Verizon Connect outlines how this technology gives companies full-scale visibility, as well as educating drivers through a series of tools that allow logistics companies to manage resources more carefully.

These new technologies require new employees to be digitally literate and proficient, further stressing the need to address the UK’s digital skills gap. At the same time, the more these digital technologies are used and developed in heavy logistics, the easier it becomes for employees to train for the necessary skills to use the technology, as well as to pass on those skills to their successors.

Closing the UK Digital Skills Gap

In a nutshell, the remedy to the digital skills gap is skills training, and this generally starts with Human Resources. Both sectors need to be proactive to ensure that their employees have the required skills to meet new challenges. Therefore, the more the UK puts into honing digital literacy skills, the better the population can adjust to the increasing digitisation of the international economy – and the better it can mitigate the potential losses due to mass digital illiteracy.

In fact, the previously mentioned £21.8 billion in potential losses over the next decade is a rather conservative estimate. Consultancy UK estimates the potential losses to be even higher at around £140 billion. In the same report, the organisation also mentions that if the G20 fails to step up to the needs of the global digital economy, the 20 richest countries in the world could face losses amounting to $11.5 trillion in GDP growth. Again, the only way to stop these potential losses is through industry-specific digital skills training.

Apart from the logistics industry and basic service providers, every significant UK industry needs to step up its digital literacy training programs. Code Institute’s own research into the matter pinpoints how low-skilled workers in industries like retail, agriculture, manufacturing, transport, and hospitality are especially at risk of being replaced by their cheaper digital counterparts – if they continue to lack the necessary skills and fail to adapt to the changing environment.

However, through practice and a hands-on approach to learning how digital streamlining can aid the workforce, the UK might just be able to pull off swimming in deep cyberspace with its head above the water.

Author: Allenie Crew