CEOs need to make the digital skills crisis personal

Businesses and employees need to invest more in digital skills if they're to keep up, says Barclays UK boss Ashok Vaswani.

by Ashok Vaswani
Last Updated: 19 Jul 2016

You might think a country that has taken to online shopping and social media with such feverish enthusiasm would also be a leader in digital skills. Without concerted investment in training, however, the UK risks a productivity-bashing skills crisis, which could see us falling behind ‘digital tigers’ such as Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and South Korea.

The need to ensure the UK’s competitiveness is more important now than ever, as the country navigates unchartered waters following the recent EU referendum result. British business leaders need to lead the charge and do much more to equip people with both basic and advanced digital skills.

The Science and Technology Select Committee’s recent report highlighted that the digital skills gap has already cost the UK £63bn in additional annual GDP growth. On a micro level, 72% of large British companies and 49% of SMEs suffer from a technology skill gap, while according to GoON a million small businesses lack the basic digital skills needed to take advantage of today’s technology and the internet.

If we fail to keep pace with technological change, British businesses of all sectors risk becoming less competitive, less productive and less able to thrive in the digital age. One important way to counteract this is to encourage better uptake of digital training in the workplace. 

Our own research has shown the need for this - while almost half (47%) of UK businesses recognise that better digital skills would lead to a more productive workforce, annual investment in digital upskilling remains minimal at only £109 per employee. 

This relatively small investment is fostering a divide within UK workforces between digitally-savvy employees with the skills and competence to thrive in an increasingly fast-paced, ‘Uber-ised’ society, and those who, despite being digitally competent, are progressing more slowly.

We, as employers and business leaders, need to support this ‘forgotten middle’ before British businesses feel the full economic effects of the digital skills crisis. 

What’s the solution? Businesses must not only step up and invest in digital skills training, but also encourage employees to make the most of this training and resources available.

Very few professionals are taking steps to boost their digital competence currently – almost half (47%) of employees have never taken steps to boost their digital skills. Businesses have a responsibility to ensure not only that the training is there, but also that their employees see the value in it.

The only way to lead is by example. As a business leader I’ve learnt how to code and have received a phenomenally positive response from our network of Digital Eagles at the willingness to take on the digital skills we’re asking them to develop.

I’m calling on business leaders to lead the charge by diving head first into digital. Now is the time to become a digital leader, not a digital follower – and we as business leaders have an obligation to lead from the front, and ensure that no one is left behind.

Ashok Vaswani is CEO of Barclays UK.


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