Digital skills 'black hole' affecting UK productivity

Rhys Handley
Monday, December 11, 2017

A deficit of digital skills in the UK workforce is negatively impacting productivity, a study from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has found.

Research showed that 26% of business owners in England lack confidence in their basic digital skills and 22% believe a lack of basic digital skills among their staff is holding them back. The FSB warned that small firms will be left behind unless the National Retraining Scheme, announced in the Budget to boost digital capability, is designed with those workers in mind.

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “Productivity is being hampered by nagging skills shortages, which are making recruitment a nightmare for small firms. As the UK moves towards Brexit, a technical skills black hole threatens the economy.

“Small firms also tell us that technical skills are crucial to the future growth of their businesses. The clock is ticking to tackle the ever-widening skills gap.”

It was revealed in the study that 30% of small businesses in England that have tried to recruit in the year since the vote to leave the European Union have struggled to find workers to fill roles because of acute skills shortages.

Despite most small business owners providing some skills training for themselves and their staff over the 12-month period, 49% do not have a formal training plan or budget. The FSB called on businesses to take a “strategic approach” to training to meet digital demands.

Roadblocks to digital development identified by the FSB included that businesses believe their staff are too busy to be trained, training is too expensive, or that training is not available locally.

KCS Print managing director Terrye Teverson said: "We do some personalisation and a lot of barcode type work, which is strings of data, and I think there would be a definite lack of confidence within the workforce and a lot of hand holding with that because it's alien to what many people are used to.

"Those who have come from a very practical side of business are now having to deal with data and trusting computers' information. There's also having to take that next step of putting in algorithms - that would be a very skilled area and they would be very difficult people to find at that top end."

She added that schools should do more to help address the issue.

"I think with maths, which a lot of people think they're no good at, quite often people start something but don't know why they're doing it. What they need to think about is the end result and what the purpose is of what they are doing so that they understand what they are trying to achieve.

"Sometimes at schools [the purpose is] not made understandable - but lots of people could do it and will have to. A lot of things that we do now with technology do use algorithms, whether we like it or not, and somebody has got to set those up. If they can't then things are going to get harder and harder.

"It needs to be more industry-facing as well. I've never had any local schools here asking if we could come in, or ask us if we do personalisation. I think there's a perception in the big industry that print is just images on a bit of paper or flyers and business cards, and not realising that we're more and more merging data into print."

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