Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA at Pluralsight

How UK businesses can avoid a digital skills disaster?

Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA at Pluralsight explores How UK employers can build a cultural environment that promotes learning and development, and ultimately boosts productivity and morale.

Recent research has truly brought home the existence and implications of the digital skills gap in the UK. Conducted by The Learning and Work Institute, the study has revealed that more than ever, young people are leaving formal education without sufficient technology skills. As a result, their entry into the workforce is met with an expectation that they’ll learn on the job, with 70% hoping their employers will invest in their training and development to fill the gaps in their knowledge. And yet, the conflicting reality is that more than half of these businesses have no plans to do so.

Whether constrained by budget, resource or know-how, this misalignment will only serve to accentuate the skills gap. In a post-pandemic world, this runs the risk of stifling productivity, growth and performance. The UK is facing a tough road towards economic recovery, so it’s crucial that businesses are equipped to champion the digital cause, offering robust learning and development (L&D) opportunities to employees.

Over the last year, we have seen unprecedented levels of engagement to learn new skills. Case in point was the uptake of our Free April initiative last year when we offered free access to our entire course library for one month, and saw over one million people sign up to learn a new digital skill. This year we have launched the same program in the hope that companies will take the opportunity to skill up or reskill their teams for free. This willingness to learn gives businesses a head start, but it’s critical that they do not disenfranchise their workers by adopting the wrong approach to L&D. For instance, our research following the first lockdown in the UK found that a quarter (25%) of office workers wished they had been offered access to online learning tools as opposed to other mediums for learning, while 84% of Gen Z employees had not been offered any skills development opportunities at all.

Wherever possible, businesses should look to avoid a formal, one-size-fits-all approach. It is not sufficient to meet modern working habits or keep up with the pace of technological change. It doesn’t offer the same flexibility or measurement as online, on-demand alternatives. Furthermore, upon completion, the knowledge gained will, more than likely, be out-of-date already, such is the pace of digital transformation right now. By contrast, digital learning platforms allow new entrants to the workforce to learn in bite-sized chunks, upskill quickly on specific tools or technologies, in a way that is personalised for them, tailor their learning to career progression and benchmark their knowledge against their peers.

As a form of best practice, businesses looking to upskill their employees and avoid the economic ramifications of an ill-equipped workforce should closely align their L&D programmes with their business priorities. As a starting point, they need to be able to accurately map the skills at their disposal and the different levels of competency within the workforce, so they can match employee skills with client projects, or understand which areas need extra support or investment. Using digital measurement tools like Skill IQ, means businesses can identify knowledge gaps and provide an L&D roadmap to bring employees up to the level required.

As a next step, successfully addressing the skills gap will require UK businesses to be one step ahead of customer requirements. This means working with their employees to anticipate which technologies and skills are set to rise in popularity. This, in turn, will then drive business priorities. According to our aforementioned research, UK office workers believe that cybersecurity (19%), data analytics (19%) and cloud computing (19%) will be particularly sought after technologies and skills over the next five years. The pandemic has led to a boom in digital-first services, so these technologies will no doubt support business continuity, allowing operations to run securely and efficiently. Therefore, to truly address the digital skills gap, UK businesses should turn their attention to these solutions, ensuring that their workforce is sufficiently prepared.

As we look to rebuild from 2020’s turbulent business environment, there’s no doubt that the digital skills gap could serve to hamper business efforts to support the UK’s recovery unless appropriately addressed. Businesses must be prepared to help new employees develop their knowledge and understanding of technology or they will face stagnant growth. It all rests on the approach; using digital-first learning platforms and aligning skill development to business priorities will keep pace with demand, giving them that competitive edge, so that they’re able to serve their customers effectively now and into the future.

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