Addressing the digital skills shortage in Britain’s SMEs
Britain’s SMEs are facing a crisis. In a time where everything possible is transitioning to digital, SMEs are struggling to acquire sufficient skills to benefit from constantly evolving digital technologies. Here, Kristian Torode, Director and Co-Founder of IT business support and communication technology specialist Crystaline, investigates the reasons behind the digital skills gap, and SMEs can become as future ready as their larger counterparts.
According to Enterprise Research Centre’s State of Small Business Britain 2021 report, 17% of SMEs lack basic digital skills, while over one in five lack the advanced digital skills they need to operate. There's increasing concern this growing shortage of digital skills will threaten the UK's ability to recover economically from the pandemic.
Mind the gap
The UK's digital skills gap is down to constantly evolving needs. Increasingly, basic digital competency has become an essential, on a par with basic English and maths. But what is considered a basic digital skill versus an advanced one? Basic typically refers to competency of digital foundational skills, communication, problem solving, transacting and being safe and legal online, while advanced skillsets include specialist knowledge in one or more area like computer aided design or coding.
According to the with The Learning and Working Institute report Disconnected? Exploring the digital skills gap one in four employers require personnel to have advanced digital skills as a prerequisite for a job offer.
If so many businesses recognise their need for digital skills, why is the gap widening? One contributor is, of course, the almost-overnight shift to remote working, which forced businesses to accelerate their adoption of digital tools. But the shift to remote isn't slowing down.
Between May 2021 and May 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics, 17.4% of UK businesses adopted hybrid or home working. So while for some, home working is the norm, for others the shift is still underway. Doing things remotely is synonymous with digital competency, as communicating with colleagues requires at least basic digital skills.
A deep-rooted problem
It's not just the pandemic that created the UK’s digital skills gap — it existed long before March 2020. In general, there seems to be a distinct lack of training on digital skills both for those in education and those already in the workplace.
In general, young people seem to recognise the importance of digital skills but don’t have confidence in their knowledge — 62% believe they lack basic digital skills required for work. Digital poverty, where people don’t have access to technology for economic reasons, and a lack of education on how to use them, is the double-edged sword at the heart of this issue.
The situation is similar in the workplace. A lack of regular training is worsened by the speed of technological development and change. While technology is opening up a wealth of new opportunities across all sectors, it does create issues when it comes to businesses having the right skillset. While an employee might have relevant qualifications, without regular, updated training, skills and knowledge will quickly become out of date.
Bridging the gap
Bridging this digital skills gap will require effort from all parties — the Government and businesses themselves. It’s clear that more training at all stages holds the key.
The Government started the ball rolling on this in education by introducing T Levels — a new qualification equivalent to three A-Levels, developed in collaboration with employers and educators to meet industry needs. T Level subjects include digital business services and digital design. While it's not a quick fix, this huge shake up will support young people in education to get the right digital skills they need to plug industry gaps.
It’s not just the Government that can help though. Technology providers and communication specialists have a role to play in not just delivering products but also sharing how to use them. At Crystaline, we understand that our relationship with our customers shouldn’t end at product or service delivery.
Whether it’s support rolling out a new IT system or an in-person workshop educating employees on how to use a new system, our team offers regular in-person training sessions to all of our customers.
While digital skills aren’t quite as prevalent as basic English and maths, students, businesses and the Government all agree that they need to be. Education is a key and all parties can play their part in sharing knowledge for Britain’s digital future.