By Derrin Kent, Managing Director, The Development Manager
Businesses and their employee’s rapid shift to digitalisation during the pandemic was an incredible display of insight and creativity that has continued to revolutionise working practices for the future.
New innovative digital products designed to improve communication and productivity have fuelled a growing tech industry, with the UK even overtaking China in startup investment within the first five months of 2022, second only to the US. Accordingly, this has led to a significant increase in job vacancies that require tech skills – and not just “advanced” tech skills.
According to the DCMS, over 80% of all jobs advertised in the UK now require some form of digital skills. From communicative products such as Slack and Teams to data storage and Cloud technology, businesses are naturally becoming more demanding where essential skills are concerned.
However, this push toward new working practices has left many employees playing catch up, as the UK’s widening digital skills gap becomes more pronounced. The Salesforce’s Global Digital Skills Index reports that over three-quarters of the global workforce do not believe they are prepared to function in a digital-first economy. In the UK, this rises to 80%, with 45% of respondents saying they feel overwhelmed by the pace of technological progress.
Certainly, while it is crucial that gaps in advanced tech roles, such as cybersecurity and software engineering, are addressed to maintain growth in the tech sector, the health of the digital economy as a whole will require bridging skills gaps in all positions.
As such, employees will need adequate training opportunities in digital support skills. This refers to the effective use of digital products and processes used to improve productivity and efficiency.
The importance of digital support skills
Saving time, money, and improving employee happiness, efficiency is one of the biggest goals for any business. However, in order to achieve this a workforce must be proficient in productivity-boosting office technologies used within their operations.
For instance, tools that reduce and speed up repetitive tasks are crucial for overall output. One study found that 67% of workers stated they were spending too many hours each week repeating the same tasks. Yet, within the same group, there was a belief that this could be drastically reduced if their employers installed automated software programs.
Examples of this can be seen among sales professionals using CRM software. While a valuable tool in understanding client trends, the data entry processes involved can become incredibly repetitive and time-consuming. So, ensuring sales staff can effectively use software, such as automated processes and speech recognition technology, to facilitate data transfer from websites to CRM systems is vital for efficiency. Letting the software do the heavy lifting reduces the chance of human error, while also allowing the employee to turn their attention to other core tasks.
For small and medium-sized businesses, getting employees up to speed with office technologies is a matter of survival. According to Wordskills UK, 76% of businesses believe that a lack of digital skills would hit their profitability, leaving SMEs in a particularly vulnerable position as they are more sensitive to the financial impacts of productivity leaks.
The government estimates that the digital skills gap costs the UK economy as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP. At the same time, businesses are wasting 37% of their software budgets annually by purchasing the incorrect tools or failing to deploy programmes correctly.
Clearly, the financial implications are huge. However, this isn’t an issue that businesses can recruit themselves out of. Reskilling and upskilling opportunities will be key for those with decades of their working life ahead of them.
Training is essential
It would be unfair to assume that all businesses have the means to sufficiently train their workforce in digital support skills. Perhaps this is achievable for large organisations, but it would be a costly and unrealistic exercise for SMEs.
Indeed, the International Labour Organization found that in 2021, 70% of large enterprises actively provided training for their staff, while only 23% of SMEs did so, highlighting a lack of available resources among smaller businesses to reskill and upskill staff.
Instead, giving workers the opportunities to upskill and reskill in digital software will require a concerted effort involving local government, businesses, and training providers. All must work together to effectively communicate the value of digital skills and where individuals can go to receive accessible training opportunities.
For example, The Development Manager has partnered with West Midlands Combined Authority to run free digital support bootcamps targeted at individuals looking to become tech-savvy in workplace software and applications. As well as grasping new knowledge of the systems they operate with, learners can gain certification as a Microsoft Office Specialist.
Meanwhile, the transferable skills acquired through reskilling and upskilling programmes can assist in boosting social mobility. A better grasp of tech and certificates to match can lead to increase economic inclusion, and positions with a focus on technology usually come with higher earning power, with the average tech salary up to 50% higher than the average for all vacancies in the UK.
A lack of digitally competent talent among the workforce is alarming – particularly as more products and processes become digitalised. If this is not addressed, businesses will begin to take a significant hit in potential productivity; a risk that SMEs cannot take. So, it is important that businesses work with training providers to give their employees the opportunity to reskill and upskill in digital support skills, allowing them to keep up with new valuable office technologies and, in turn, maintaining a strong digital economy.
Derrin Kent is Managing Director at The Development Manager, a UK-based organisation that coaches and trains employees to develop tech and digital skills in order to address the workforce productivity gap.