Published on in Responsible Business

People are at the heart of the UK’s digital future.

That was the rather comforting view of business leaders surveyed for our recent Digital Transformation PACT report.

People were identified as the most important factor in successfully realising digital transformation, ahead of actions, collaboration and even technology itself.

And yet by their own admission, UK organisations are falling behind when it comes to people, with three in four admitting to a ‘clear lack of digital skills’ in their business.

Although some are taking action, the most popular measure is targeted recruitment – a strategy that can’t last in the longer term.

So how can businesses ensure their most valuable assets – their people – are ready for the digital age?

The problem with the gap

People are critical to making technology work successfully.

Having a workforce that is able, comfortable and willing to make use of new tech is fundamental to successfully introducing it.

With that in mind, the current digital skills gap is clearly a pressing issue for businesses on the ground.

Four-in-five businesses say that a lack of skills is the main factor preventing them from addressing their cyber security, leaving them potentially vulnerable to crippling attacks.

Almost all UK businesses (92%) are taking steps to increase their access to digital expertise, indicating not only the extent of the issue but the desire of business leaders to address it.

The fact that emphasis is placed on targeted recruitment above other measures, however, is less positive. While recruitment may be part of the answer, relying primarily on external sources of new talent to plug the skills gap is not practical, let alone responsible.

Ultimately this approach will create fierce competition for talent, neglect existing workers and still leave many businesses lacking the skills they need.

The workforce of tomorrow, today

While the skills gap is clearly creating issues today, these problems are only set to accelerate as time goes by. Most UK business leaders (81%) believe artificial intelligence will transform the skills needed in their organisation by 2020.

With that in mind, we need to focus on upskilling our current workforce to give them the competencies needed to thrive not only today but in the coming years. Leadership teams must consider the skills required today and in the future and how they can instil them in the workforce.

Encouragingly, many organisations are delivering upskilling through targeted training programmes and reverse mentoring, where younger employees share digital skills with older employees. Such measures will be crucial to ensuring that all employees have the competencies they need as the workplace changes.

Alongside that, we must also encourage the next generation of workers to develop their STEM and digital skills. 87% of UK businesses say attracting digitally native staff will be vital to their success in the next three years.

Creating a curriculum that teaches young people the skills they need for the workplace is crucial, and apprentices can be a powerful tool in delivering training alongside industry experience.

But we must also tackle STEM’s long-standing image problem, showcasing how exciting digital jobs can be, both within tech and other sectors.

Digital for the people, by the people

The digital pace of change is only set to increase, and people will be crucial in determining which businesses – and ultimately which economies – thrive.

As a nation, we must not only acknowledge the importance of digital skills to our future but work together to address these shortages today.

By bolstering our current and future workforce we can ensure we’re ready to thrive amidst digital change.

Otherwise, the UK may struggle in the digital age.

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