Writing Word documents, making Excel spreadsheets and adding email attachments. These have been the key digital skills required of the British working public in the information age so far. But as more people go online and the UK economy flounders, increasingly complex computer knowhow is needed.
The Digital Economy Could Keep Britain Afloat
Post-Brexit, the UK economy looks uncertain. Since the nation’s digital economy is growing 32% faster than the wider economy, and the digital workforce is growing three times faster than the rest of the job market, the country’s future may very well depend on nurturing a digitally-skilled workforce.
Unfortunately, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills’ Digital Skills Report this January found that “a shortage in suitable digital skills for digital jobs persists in the UK labour market.” They also found that the ‘ranking’ of the UK as an attractive place to do digital business will slip if this shortage is not addressed. This was confirmed by the 2015 Global Information Technology Report, which put Britain in eighth place in terms of suitability for digital business. The higher placement of EU member countries like the Netherlands and Sweden may spell trouble for a post-Brexit Britain.
The Department for Business also concluded that there should be an effort to “re-skill the workforce continuously to ensure that new market segments that require digital skills can be exploited.” But what are these new key market segments, and what kind of skills do they require?
Next Generation Digital Skills
There are many areas in which most of the UK public is nowhere near skilled enough work. One of these areas is simply in coding. Considering the nation’s everyday reliance on computer programs and apps, relatively few people know how to create them. This is a problem, because job finding platform Indeed has listed knowledge of developing iOS, Android and Mobile apps, as well as fluency in HTML5 and MongoDB some of the fastest growing skills required in job advertisements.
Another of these deeper digital skills employers require is knowledge of search engine optimisation (SEO). Since most companies get a lot of business from their websites and most websites are found via Google, optimising the company website has never been more crucial.
Go Up, an SEO agency London-based companies often work with, stresses the importance of “having a stunning, user focused website at the top of the Google search results.” But SEO skills are not just needed for those working at a specialist agency. Search Engine Journal reports that SEO jobs have declined this year, but this can be explained not by a lack of demand, but due to an increase in the number of all-round marketing jobs that require SEO as just one of many skills.
SAP is another area of digital skill that most large UK businesses need, but don’t necessarily understand. Put simply it is the act of programming a shared database to create smooth interaction between departments. Again, SAP is an area where jobs are starting to outnumber candidates.
What Can We Do About The ‘Digital Skills Gap’?
The Department for Business suggested ‘re-skilling’ the workforce, but it is unclear how this could be done. A better idea might be to change the school curriculum. Last year the House of Lords called for a complete rethink of the primary school curriculum that would place equal emphasis on digital skills, numeracy and literacy.
But making computer technology a core subject would involve training up teachers and rewriting large portions of the curriculum, which would all be very expensive. Still, since a Science and Technology Committee recently estimated the digital skills gap may be costing the UK economy £63 billion in lost GDP a year, it might be a price worth paying.