Despite the nation’s booming tech sector, many UK businesses are facing a significant skills gap when it comes to acquiring top digital talent.

Survey data published by the government in January revealed that almost a fifth of companies had a skills vacancy in the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports sector.

While this trend predated COVID, it has certainly been accelerated by the pandemic, with firms having become increasingly reliant on technology to avoid disruption to their internal operations, or to the delivery of their products and services. This has meant that the level of demand for digital talent has outstripped supply by a considerable margin, and will likely continue to do so unless appropriate action is taken to upskill the workforce.

That is why greater access to lifelong learning must be made available to all UK workers, so that businesses can begin to tackle the crisis they are facing, and better prepare themselves for the challenges that lie ahead.

Removing the blockers to lifelong learning

As it stands, however, access to lifelong learning and further education is, for many people and businesses, impeded by several substantial and debilitating ‘blockers’.

Firstly, a considerable number of organisations do not have – or fail to invest sufficiently in – the time that is required for upskilling or reskilling staff. 

While there are a number of potential reasons for this – such as a lack of time for activities that are not directly related to completing workflows – businesses also do not consider staff development to be a priority. This suggests that many firms are shirking their responsibilities altogether when it comes to upskilling staff, or are otherwise allocating an insufficient amount of time to training.

Another blocker that many companies experience is not having the money to allocate towards upskilling: ‘lack of budget’ is considered by businesses to be the biggest barrier for workplaces enabling staff members to spend time on development.

With a study from the World Economic Forum concluding that half of all employees need to upskill or reskill by 2025, companies must make offering more skills training to staff a priority, whether that means enabling employees to spend more time on personal development, or allocating a greater portion of their budget to upskilling.

As technology evolves, so must people’s skills

With the technology used by businesses constantly evolving, it is vital that workers’ understanding of digital tools and their ability to use them evolve in kind. That is why the availability of lifelong learning is more relevant than ever, and could provide the solution the UK so urgently needs to plug its ever-widening skills gap.

It is a statement of fact that many of the ways in which we work today will no longer be fit for purpose in 10 years’ time, and businesses that can stay at the forefront of the latest technological developments will likely find themselves ahead of the curve in the long run.

In this sense, business leaders need to see investment in their employees’ digital skills as an investment in the organisation’s future and continued success. However, the onus is not simply on companies to do more when it comes to making lifelong learning more accessible – only through greater investment by the government will digital skills training become available to the many who need it, rather than the privileged few.

For decades, the UK has been seen as a digital powerhouse at the cutting edge of the latest tech advancements. If it hopes to retain this reputation and utilise technology for the betterment of its economy and society at large, however, it must take swift action to address its deepening skills crisis, and thereby secure a more sustainable and prosperous tech-driven future.