Since early last year, businesses have had to rely on the digital proficiencies of their employees more than ever before. Yet, increased dependency on technology has also further exposed the severe digital skills gap that exists across the UK. 

The digital skills gap has become a complex issue for businesses – there are not enough people with the right capabilities to compete with the growing demand for tech roles and digital skills. Indeed, it is a real challenge not only for technology and digital companies but across all industry sectors, with companies of all shapes and sizes struggling to fill vacancies.  

A 2021 government report revealed that almost half (48%) of UK businesses were recruiting for roles that required hard data skills, but 46% have struggled to find appropriately skilled candidates over the last two years. 

Naturally, this is a concern; failure to address the skills shortage will impede both people’s job prospects and businesses’ growth prospects, and in turn, hinder the UK’s post-pandemic recovery. In recognition of the problem, the Chancellor pledged to boost skills funding by £3 billion in the recent Autumn Budget, stating that the government was looking to fuel a digital skills revolution by providing tech education for young people and reskilling options for adults. 

Such Government funding is going to play a hugely important part in tackling the problem. And digital skills bootcamps are an example of how state-backed programmes can make a significant difference for employers and employees alike. 

What are digital skills bootcamps? 

Many readers may not have heard of digital skills bootcamps; however, they are a vital part of the plan to greatly enhance digital skills. 

For example, with a £7 million grant, West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has piloted over 30 digital bootcamps and trained around 2,000 adults with essential tech skills in recent years. In October, WMCA unveiled its next round of bootcamps; £21 million has been made available from the Adult Education Budget to support the new bootcamps over the next three years, with a target of supporting more than 4,000 people.

Free to access, the bootcamps cover data analytics and data engineering, web development, coding, UI and UX design, cloud computing, digital marketing, and cybersecurity, and more. They are organised by WMCA, but the delivery of the actual training is managed by individual specialist firms, each with expertise in a particular digital field.

The bootcamps can be used by those out of work as well as people in employment but seeking new roles or promotions that require digital skills. 

The importance of partnerships

Businesses cannot be passive observers in the digital skills shortage. State investment has a significant role to play in ensuring more people are able to access the necessary education, training and support to develop digital skills; however, employers must forge their own plans to overcome the skills gap that could – if it has not already – hinder their growth ambitions. 

Moreover, the success of the bootcamps is dependent on the involvement of business leaders. Partnered with public sector funding and industry-led training, a business can bolster its workforce by engaging in the courses. They can upskill current employees by enrolling them in a course, or they can offer interview opportunities to the participants, allowing them access to recently trained prospective employees.

For example, Amritpal Singh, Director of Mettaminds, CIC, undertook a WMCA digital bootcamp focusing on data analysis run by Local Education And Development (LEAD). Mr Singh, already the director of the organisation, wanted to improve the way Mettaminds collects and uses data and in order to create better relationships with beneficiaries and inform funding applications. 

“It gave me the knowledge of data sources and tools to ‘make sense’ of data and to also present it in a practical way. For example, we now have a dashboard that gives us visibility of how we are working and who we are working with.”

From across the employment spectrum and for businesses operating in all sectors, the digital skills bootcamps being run across the UK have a key role to play in helping individuals and organisations to bridge the skills gap. I would encourage employers to explore what digital skills bootcamps exist in their region and, where possible, engage with the courses as a very focused, practical means of improving their access to vital digital skills training.