This year, at the Salesforce Live executive event we were joined by three fantastic speakers to discuss the digital skills in the UK & Ireland - Sam White, Barclays, Liz Williams, FutureDotNow and IDC’s Marianne Kolding.

There’s been talk for years about the digital skills gap and the pandemic has brought this into close focus. How we live and work in this digital world has changed irrevocably and digital skills have become as valuable as reading and writing. It’s time to create a pathway of learning for our current and future workforce; identify missing skills; and develop a strategy to re-skill and up-skill people to ensure that nobody is left behind. 

The last 18 months have accelerated digital programs, firmly placing tech and digital skills on business agendas. The CBI estimates that, by 2030, 9 out of 10 jobs will require new digital skills. And a recent IDC Research report highlights that:

  • 89% of CEOs felt under increased pressure to continue their digital transformation program

  • 82% say they are struggling to hire people with digital skills 

  • The lack of digital skills permeates all business KPIs including sales and profitability; some digital transformation plans were being delayed over 8 months due to lack of skills

  • In 2024, across Europe, organisations will lose around 192bn annually due to lack of digital skills 

At the start of 2021, there were over 300,000 job listings for digital skills in CRM-related positions in the UK, and a big gap between the demand for digital skills and the availability of these skills. A growing number of retirees and a lack of new people entering the workplace means one thing – up-skilling and re-skilling the existing workforce is vital. 

It’s a challenge – and too big a challenge for one organisation to fix. But it needs fixing fast, and before it holds back recovery in the UK and Ireland and across the world.


How can organisations assess their own skills gap?

It’s not easy, agrees Marianne Kolding. We need to plan for skills in the way that we plan for any business change, and ensure that our skills strategy aligns with our business strategy.

We live in a digital society, but we don’t necessarily have a digitally confident nation, suggests Liz Williams. According to Government definitions, 17m people don’t have the essential skills for life and work. Nine million of these don’t even have digital foundation skills – such as the ability to get on line. And 11 million people in the UK could not transact online. 

Some sectors, consulting and the tech sector, for example, are ahead of the curve. Others, including manufacturing, are behind. 


How are some businesses tackling this growing digital skills shortage? 

Barclays has been on its digital journey for 15 years, says Sam White, who reminds us that we have a societal duty and a duty to colleagues and customers to improve digital skills. It takes a shift in mindset and needs to start at the highest level of an organisation before it can permeate down. It’s not just a case of providing the enabling technology either – it’s about creating an environment that enables colleague-led change. Sam shared an anecdote from a few years back where iPads were given to every branch, yet only one third of them were ever used for their intended customer-service purpose. A fresh look at the challenge resulted in Barclays identifying passionate colleagues who would each train two people in the technology. They, in turn, would each train two more colleagues and in time, everybody in the business has reached a minimum competence level around digital understanding. And once they have reached that core level, there’s a structured path to enable you to move through higher levels. A highly effective program, continuously raising digital skills and standards.


How then can business leaders ensure that staff have the digital skills for the future?

It’s important that leaders don’t confuse technology adoption with genuine skills – digitally native young people don’t necessarily have the digital skills they need in business. And an older person with a smartphone could easily be one of the 44% of under 60-year-olds who can’t get online. 

It needs to be okay for people to talk candidly about what they are unable to do digitally and organisations must create a culture of learning and ingrain this into the way they operate. 

At Barclays, colleagues are offered three weeks each year to learn new skills. The bank’s strategy is to recruit for potential and train for skills, and to foster a culture of lifelong learning. 


How do we ensure that continuous training programs are a must have and not a nice to have?

Building a business case for continuous digital skills training should not be too difficult for most organisations. At Barclays, 91% of all transactions in 2020 were digital – you need colleagues with digital skills to manage this. And the remaining 9% of transactions require a human connection and a higher level of digital knowledge. Simply managing this level of transactions requires ongoing digital skills training as a key component of employee training. 

The digital skills gap won’t be fixed overnight. It needs a collaboration between businesses, governments and educational establishments to address the challenge. It needs to move quickly and we need commitment to develop a digital skills strategy in the UK. 

Salesforce believes that business has a responsibility to up-skill the current and future workforce to make sure that people and businesses don't get left behind. 

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