A study by Barclays reveals that productivity, innovation and growth may be at risk as UK comes just fourth in digital development. How can we bridge the gap?
The digital skills gap costs the UK £63 billion a year in lost GDP. Despite a strong cohort of ‘digital natives’–the under 25s firmly jacked into all things digital, research highlights a disconnect between the strength in policies supporting digital engagement and the low levels of confidence in digital skills at an individual level among British workers.
Barclays surveyed nearly 10,000 working adults in combination with analysis of policy frameworks and support for the development of digital skills in 10 countries around the world in its Digital Development Index. The study, which attributes an overarching ‘digital empowerment’ score to each nation, found that the UK came in just fourth place behind new and emerging ‘digital tiger’ economies Estonia, South Korea and Sweden.
Barclays UK CEO Ashok Vaswani sees lifelong learning as the best way to scale the gap between the UK’s strong policies and low levels of skill and confidence in the workforce. “This research shows Britons need to equip themselves with digital skills whether to future proof their career, or keep personal data and devices safe. Businesses also need to do much more to upskill each and every generation of their workforce; we need to create a new culture of lifelong learning,” he said.
The UK ranks sixth, behind some of its biggest economic rivals including China, India and the USA in terms of workforce confidence and digital skills.
Within the wide umbrella of digital skills, the UK ranks just seventh out of 10 for coding skills and content creation. This is a key indicator of the ability to be a ‘digital creator’ rather than just a ‘digital consumer’, for which the UK is already well-placed. According to Deloitte Media Consumer 2015, 26 per cent of those aged between 16 and 24 use social media to communicate with others as soon as they wake up, and 70 per cent of all 11,000 respondents spend at least an hour a day consuming news through digital channels. Despite the high rate of digital consumption, particularly among UK’s under 25s, most of the nation’s workforce faces the challenge of learning how to create digital content and not just consume it, according to the Barclays’ study.
Only 16 per cent of people in the UK would be very comfortable building a website, compared to 39 per cent in Brazil and 37 per cent in India. Confidence in building mobile apps in the UK is even lower (11 per cent), which again points to the nation’s penchant for importing digital products, considering the estimated 43.2 million mobile app users in the UK.
Vaswani sees this as a necessary wake-up call post-Brexit, urging businesses to do their part in training staff and securing London and the UK as the world’s pre-eminent powerhouse of technological innovation.
“At a time when the UK is considering its future outside the European Union, we have to remember that competing in the digital economy isn’t simply a European question, it’s about a global race that will define how prosperous and successful we are for decades to come. With the referendum sending a clear message that too many parts of the UK do not feel they are sharing in the promise of global prosperity, now is the time to take everyone in society forward in the digital age,” he explained.