To say 2022 was a tough year for businesses would be putting it lightly. As we head into 2023 decision-makers across the country will be hoping for a calmer and more prosperous year ahead. 

Yet, with inflation still sat at double figures the difficult task of attracting and retaining staff on a tight budget remains an issue. 

Unfortunately, talent shortages are set to become increasingly prominent among workforces in the coming years if the digital skills gap is not addressed – a trend which is only going to worsen as the cost-of-living crisis grows.

More than four in five (81%) UK managing directors say a lack of digital skills is negatively affecting their company. Unsurprisingly, employee retention has become a top priority for businesses, with many hiking prices in order to fund additional support for staff that falls in line with rising inflation. As more products and services digitalise, growth prospects are becoming dependant on a sufficiently trained, tech competent workforce. 

Falling into the trap of viewing the skills shortage as a purely business problem is an easy mistake to make but does not tell the whole story. This is because digital skills gaps disproportionally appear in disadvantaged communities – the same communities that are impacted the most by the cost-of-living crisis. 

Why gaining digital skills is more challenging for some

The DCMS describes digital technologies as a “fundamental part of our everyday existence, providing goods and services that even a decade ago seemed unimaginable”. There’s an enormous advantage to keeping up with the pace of tech innovation, in both our personal and work lives. 

The problem, however, is that lower income groups are often excluded from digital opportunities due to unequal access to the required technologies. 

Many of us take internet access for granted. Yet, access to the web brings the option to work from home, search and apply for jobs, and learn vital ICT skills – skills such as drafting and sending an email or creating Excel spreadsheets (the digital skills gap includes basic and advanced tech skills). However, according to a recent survey, 2 million households struggle to afford internet access in the UK today, and with millions struggling to keep up with escalating bills this figure is likely to increase as more people make financial concessions.

Similarly, a lack of access to digital devices prevents self-learning. In 2020, an Ofcom survey found that nearly 1 in 10 households containing children did not have home access to a laptop, desktop PC or tablet. 

When you consider how crucial online connectivity is to how we study, acquire new skills for the workplace, and generally go about our daily lives, it becomes clear where skills gaps first start to emerge. The Digital Youth Index, for instance, found that over half of young people (48%) are primarily teaching themselves digital skills. Those without access to the internet will fall behind their colleagues who can gain necessary skills for the future profession while at home.

UK workers also believe they are passed over for a promotion or pay rise due to their lack of digital skills, meaning individuals hoping to find a higher paying salary to support themselves during the cost-of-living crisis will be unable to do so.   

The role of skills bootcamps

The goal of diversifying talent and boosting digital inclusivity cannot be carried by schools and businesses. With budgets tightening, businesses’ ability to fund additional training to new and existing employees will be limited.

Further training opportunities must be made accessible. As such, digital skills bootcamps will play an important role in bridging the gap. 

For example, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) run bootcamps free of charge for learners and equip West Midlands residents with digital skills, giving them to access roles in areas like coding, cybersecurity and digital marketing. They support the unemployed and those seeking a career change, as well as employed people looking to gain the digital skills required to secure more responsibility or a promotion with their current employer.

The WMCA recently secured a further £11.25 million from the government’s National Skills Fund to expand bootcamp delivery in key sectors of our regional economy – digital, health and green. This means that, to date, more than £19 million has been invested in WMCA’s digital bootcamps

Further, employers can recruit directly through the bootcamps – and even establish their own bootcamps, where they help to design the training to give them precisely the digital skills and experiences they need.

The cost-of-living crisis has a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged communities and is accentuating the digital skills gap. By giving those who would not otherwise have access to the necessary training and job prospects, digital skills bootcamps will play a crucial role in reversing this.