How we can ensure we stay at the forefront of the Global Digital Economy
By Ashok Vaswani, CEO, Barclays UK
For a CEO, one of the most rewarding ways to lead is by example. We have the exciting challenge to encourage and inspire our employees to develop themselves and keep learning, particularly in our fast-paced, tech-orientated world. As we contemplate our future outside of the EU and compete in the global race towards prosperity, it’s vitally important that we are doing all we can to lead everyone in society forward in the digital age.
Whilst businesses in the UK have made good progress in ensuring their employees get the digital training they need to help their companies – and Britain – thrive, we are still a long way from fully future-proofing our workforce or economy. Now is the time to focus our attention on enhancing our home-grown skills to amplify the UK’s position as a business and technological leader.
Why upskilling matters
A huge opportunity to boost our global competitiveness and the career prospects of future generations is to transform the way we think about digital skills. Upskilling is an important factor in driving this change.
At the end of 2017, the Federation of Small Business (FSB) called on the government to tackle the digital skills shortage or risk stalling productivity. To support its argument, the FSB found that more than a quarter of business owners in England lack confidence in their basic digital skills, while just over one in five (22%) believe that a lack of basic digital skills among their staff is holding them back from increasing their digital and online presence.
Similarly, research from Barclays revealed that 42% of us don’t possess the digital skills required by most jobs, whilst only 38% of employers offer their workers digital skills training. In addition, Virgin revealed that the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63 billion a year in lost GDP.
But in some cases, lack of awareness is hindering our progress in digitally upskilling. Barclays research found that only 16% of people across the UK are aware of any local or government-backed training available in their area to improve their digital skills, with 62% of people not accessing the training that is on offer.
Businesses must realise the role they need to play too. Digital skills are no longer just ‘nice to have’, but essential for the modern workforce, and digital knowledge sharing should be encouraged and promoted by senior leadership teams. By providing – and investing in – training and support, this will not only improve the career prospects of their employees but also develop a thriving business with a culture of lifelong learning at its heart.
No generation left behind
With Generation X facing at least another three decades in the workforce, but having started their careers with a minimal requirement for digital know-how, we need to make sure they are empowered and equipped with the digital skills required to develop and succeed. Through our research in this area, we found that 35-44-year olds were 11% less likely than millennials to be confident in their digital abilities.
Generation X workers are also more worried about their ability to keep their skills up-to-date (23% have confidence in their ability to do so, versus 28% for millennials). Yet interestingly, while four in ten employers opt to hire younger employees for the specific reason of addressing the lack of digital skills in their business, a third of millennials fear they lack digital skills to keep up – which is more than any other generation.
We have a responsibility as business leaders to ensure that no generation feels unsure or unprepared to tackle whatever the digital economy might challenge us with in the future. We must commit to training and investing in all employees – no matter their age, role, or current level of skill, so that we can collectively and fully embrace each new digital era.
Fostering digital inclusion
By making this commitment, we can help to close the skills gap between the high-tech achievers and the “forgotten middle” – those employees who are simply ‘getting by’ and afraid to supercharge their digital capabilities.
Yes, new technologies can be daunting to many, but innovative educators – in schools, workplaces and vocational training environments – can people build their digital confidence. Programmes dedicated to helping the digitally excluded are another way businesses can position themselves as agents for change.
At Barclays, our Digital Eagle Labs initiative provides business startups and communities with access to space and resources to build their business and digital skills. With over 97,100 individual visitors to date, we’ve seen just how strong the demand for digital knowledge sharing is and I’m proud of the role we are playing in providing this.
If we are to establish the UK as one of the most digitally savvy nations on earth – an ambitious yet necessary goal – we must help people to fulfil their full potential. Digital skills can boost earning power and productivity and everyone deserves the opportunity to benefit. By taking action now, we can cement our position at the forefront of the global digital economy post-Brexit.