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Digital skills could make or break the UK

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16th Mar 2015
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A digital skills shortage, you say? Babawande Sheba has a few ideas to plug that gap. 

Last month the Lords Digital Skills Committee released a report looking at the digital skills crisis in the UK. I say crisis, because the report found that the UK is currently failing to address its digital skills shortage. This is corroborated by studies showing that by 2017 the UK will need 750,000 skilled digital workers, and failure to produce these works could cost the economy as much as £2bn annually.

It’s undeniable that the figures are worrying, however as often happens when presented with information in number format, it is robbed of its weight due to a lack of personalisation. So what does this digital skills deficit actually mean for the UK?

The last decade has represented a massive leap in the way we use technology. Nearly everyone now has a smartphone, and you can’t sit on a tube carriage without at least one person swiping away on their tablet. Digital illiteracy might not make much of a difference in the way we live our personal lives, but uptake is on the rise in businesses and workers need to keep up, or face being left behind.

The younger generation has never had a problem with embracing new technologies, as a result of having grown up with the latest developments and the carefully orchestrated marketing that accompanies their launches. However, for those of us who have seen technology develop (relatively) slowly before exploding in the last decade (with a new product launched almost every week claiming to be bigger and better than the last), understanding the concept that digital is the future is difficult.

"We need to get people using digital technology in the workplace in much the same way that they do at home.

As such, there is the concept of the 27-hour digital day (#27hrdigitalday). Myself and a colleague surmised that, used properly and effectively, incorporating digital devices into both our personal and professional lives mean that we can extend a traditional 24 hour day by three hours. The project was launched with the aim of creating full awareness of the many digital tools available to both individuals and organisations, and demonstrating how, through effective training, these tools can facilitate an increase in workplace productivity.

The 27-hour digital day was born out of a desire to help organisations and their professionals get more out of their day by becoming ‘digitally smarter’, and its launch was a great success. However, in order to mitigate a true digital skills crisis in the future, the ideology behind this project needs to be taken up by more organisations and businesses at a grassroots level.

To do this, a government initiative is needed to support both individuals and the companies they work for, promoting a society of digital literates. That may be easier said than done, but if this recent report has told us anything it’s that action needs to be taken. We need to get people using digital technology in the workplace in much the same way that they do at home. As communication tools, digital devices are indispensable, but there has also been an influx of applications on these platforms that can be used to organise, delegate and manage productivity. Surely these apps should be like gold dust in the workplace?!

There are some positives. In 2013 the Government initiated a mission to help small businesses gain access to super-fast broadband. Eligible businesses can receive a connection voucher of up to £3,000 fully funded by the Government. This initiative can only serve to advance small businesses' engagement and usage of the productivity tools available to them.

Efficiency very often equals larger profit margins, so implementation of a digital initiative is beneficial both from a selfish and selfless perspective. I think part of reason for a slow uptake is most likely because we as a nation still see the acquisition of digital skills as a bonus, rather than an essential part of our personal and professional lives. Another reason may be based upon trust; for example, many employers still are reluctant to let employees work remotely too much as they fear they may not be working as much as they would be in the office. However, research has shown that benefits of greater trust include increased productivity and profit margins.

Bringing a halt to the digital skills crisis begins, first and foremost, with a change of attitude. We need to view these devices as a help, rather than a hindrance, and use them appropriately. Education in this vein should start as early as possible, as tomorrow’s workers are today’s children, and technology is only going to become more prolific in the coming years. Businesses too can play their part, though, and as many HR departments already recognise, education is a lifelong pursuit, and this also applies to digital literacy.

Babawande Sheba is Head of Department (Logistics and Operations) at GSM London

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