While the "digital native" generation seems to have little trouble keeping up with new tech developments, a lack of investment in digital skills is fostering a society of "digital consumers" rather than "digital creators".
Last week, secretary for culture, media and sport Karen Bradley announced a new government funded plan to offer adults free courses in basic digital training in an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill. This is welcome news in an area that I have previously championed, through calls for government and business leaders to place more focus on investment in digital skills for the UK’s workforce.
The new initiative is symbolic of the UK’s world-class digital policy, as indicated by the Barclays Digital Development Index in which the UK came in joint second place for digital skills policy.
However, our index, published in July, revealed that the UK has a huge opportunity to boost our global competitiveness and the career prospects of future generations by transforming the way we think about digital skills.
Businesses in the UK have taken some steps to ensure their employees get the digital training they need to help their companies – and Britain – thrive, but so far we have not gone far enough to future-proof our workforce or economy. The UK came in second to last place for workplace digital skills, as businesses struggle to implement the training needed to address current shortfalls in digital skills and the government’s strategy to date has largely focused on developing a talent base of ICT professionals, which could be undermining essential digital skills among the broader workforce.
This new government initiative could help close the skills gap between the high tech achievers and the "forgotten middle" – those employees who are getting by but not developing the skills they need to thrive in this fast-paced digital economy.
But, for it to truly succeed, employers and business leaders need to redouble their efforts and investment in digital skills training and continue to encourage employees to make the most of tech-oriented training.
The government’s digital training initiative comes at a perfect time. The UK is ahead of its rivals in embracing digital technology, but we are at risk of being usurped by new "digital tigers" such as Estonia and South Korea. This new initiative will certainly help our workforce adapt to new digital opportunities in our innovative, revolutionary era and ensure the UK is competitive globally for years to come.