UK digital skills deficit poses major risk to company productivity, BCC warns

Three in four UK businesses have reported a digital skills shortage among their employees

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The Independent Online

UK companies face serious consequences if they fail to tackle digital skills deficiencies within their workforce that are hampering productivity and increasing staff workloads, new research shows.

Three in four UK businesses have reported a digital skills shortage among their employees, despite 84 per cent of firms admitting that digital and IT skills are more important to their enterprise now than two years ago, according to a study released by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) on Friday.

The survey of more than 1,400 businesses across the UK found 52 per cent of companies reporting a slight shortage in digital competencies, with 21 per cent stating the shortage was "significant" and 3 per cent saying it was "critical".

According to the findings, the persistent skills gap is now damaging the prospects of many firms. More than half of businesses say that the issue is increasing staff workloads and 29 per cent report that the skills shortage is leading to higher operating costs.

A further 28 per cent say the problem is causing difficulties in meeting customer requirements.

Adam Marshall, Director General of the BCC, said:

“The evidence is clear: better digital skills make firms more productive, and a lack of digital skills holds them back.

“Businesses themselves need to do a lot more to tackle the digital skills shortages they face, and their leaders need to be alive to the fact that a failure to tackle this issue will have an impact on their bottom line. Too many firms are stuck in an unproductive cycle, where the failure to take action has serious consequences.

“Training providers can give firms a helping hand, by engaging with companies on their digital needs and helping them to free up resources for growth. Government must help as well, by recognising that some of the high-level digital skills businesses need will come from overseas so a pragmatic immigration system needs to be in place to provide firms with access to the workers required to fill the gaps.”

In October last year, the Government put forward an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would provide adults who lack basic computer skills with free training.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said the provision would drag people out of the “digital darkness” and put technological skills on a par with English and maths.

Shadow Culture Secretary Kevin Brennan, however, was critical of the proposals, arguing they should have been “more ambitious” in boosting digital skills and beefing up cyber security.

The Bill is expected to gain Royal Assent in late spring.

Campaigners have also urged tech savvy businesses to work with school teachers to close the skills gap among those entering the workforce, after research in June 2016 found students were missing out on the relevant qualifications that would equip them for “the jobs of the future.”

According to the Office for National Statistics around 5.3 million Britons have never used the internet with the Government stating that more than 10 million adults in England lack the basic digital skills they need.

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