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Why technology isn’t enough to bridge the growing digital skills gap

By 21st September 2023March 19th, 2024No Comments
A group of four people sitting round a desk working on computers

Today’s ever-evolving digital landscape demands a greater need for digital skills. But what happens when public and private sector organisations struggle to keep up with the accelerated pace of technology innovation?

They find themselves with a digital skills gap. As one of the world’s most talked-about problems, it’s a reality that can’t be ignored.

Companies identify skill gaps as a key barrier preventing transformation, and with the digital skills gap costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion a year, it’s clear there’s a lot more work to be done.

A report by the World Economic Forum found only 41% of workers have completed training that has effectively bridged skills gaps, yet frontline workers are worried they’re not receiving adequate digital training from their employers.

Not only is the existence of a digital skills gap a hindrance to both personal and professional growth, but it also limits the success and operational productivity of a business. ‘Lack of in-house resources for training and development’, and ‘speed of adapting to changes in technology’ are the second and fifth biggest causes of skill gaps respectively.

In this blog, we’re talking about the role of technology, its limitations, and how you can transform the pressing problem of digital skill gaps into an opportunity for your organisation.

Which technology can fill digital skills gaps?

Let’s be clear about one thing: the digital skills gap can’t be solely addressed by investing in the latest tools and software or providing technical training.

Developing a digital-ready workforce needs a multi-faceted approach that includes digital competence, critical thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, and fostering a culture of innovation.

However, specific technologies can serve as building blocks towards bridging the gap:

Six individual wooden blocks with a letter on each spelling the word skills

Online learning platforms

Many consider online learning platforms (OLP), like Microsoft Learn, GitHub Learning Lab, and LinkedIn Learning, to be one of the most accessible and effective ways to pick up digital skills. OLPs offer a range of courses, from coding to data analysis, enabling individuals to learn at their own pace.

Skill assessment tools

The first step to improvement is understanding current skill levels across the organisation. Skill assessment tools can identify strengths and weaknesses, ensuring learning can be tailored to specific needs.

Remote collaboration tools

Workplaces are increasingly hybrid, making collaboration more important than ever. Remote collaboration tools facilitate teamwork and encourage skill development in digital communications.

Long-forgotten technology

Many companies have invested in technology (like Microsoft 365), but they’re not using it. If they are, they’re not using it to its full potential. Often the issue’s not a lack of technology, but a lack of knowledge on how to use it effectively.

Automation

Automation and AI can save time without human intervention by handling many tedious and manual tasks. Learning to work alongside these automated systems is a valuable skill to have in the digital age.

Challenges and limitations of technology

While technology is a powerful ally in addressing the digital skills gap, it does present some challenges and limitations.

Access and infrastructure

High-tech infrastructure deployment and maintenance costs can limit access to technology, while outdated legacy systems put a blocker on business improvements and innovation.

Quality of training and resources

Training on digital systems can vary and as technology rapidly evolves, training materials and courses can become obsolete before you know it. Keeping up to date with technology and new features on top of the day job is a time-consuming minefield.

Broad brush learning experiences

Many learning programmes employ a one-size-fits-all model, neglecting individual learning styles and needs, and potentially causing disengagement among learners.

Neglected soft skills

While technical skills can be taught, essential soft skills like communication, teamwork, and adaptability are crucial for long-term success in a digital environment. Confidence and self-belief in achieving success with new systems are also important.

Four things to consider

To overcome these challenges and limitations, organisations should consider these key areas:

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tech optimisation
A man smiling and wearing headphones sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen

1. Tech optimisation

Where there are budget constraints, look at what systems and technologies you already have in place, and how these can be optimised, reintroduced, and further adopted across the organisation. There could be useful software integrations and add-ins you’ve not considered before.

People impact
A man in conversation with colleagues around a meeting table

2. People impact

Technology is often rolled out without any consideration of the impact it could have on frontline workers. Organisations should assess the potential level of impact, gauge stress and uncertainty, and look to foster an environment that encourages learning new skills.

Cultural change
A group of coworkers standing around a computer desk and screen holding coffees

3. Cultural change

New processes and tech aren’t often ‘change ready’, meaning people don’t understand what’s expected of them and what skills are needed to do the job. Developing an organisational culture that embraces change and skill development, together with a watertight communications plan, is crucial for bridging a digital skills gap.

Clear communication
A group of coworkers with laptops sitting in a semi-circle having a discussion

4. Clear communication

Being transparent about skills gaps and organisational efforts to address them can motivate employees to commit to their own development and organisation-wide change.

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Where there’s a gap, there’s an opportunity…

Many organisations recognise they have a digital skills gap, but not necessarily the true extent or size of it. An assessment should be the first step to help bridge the skills gap where you map out digital skill sets across the workforce and think about skills in a more sustainable way.

Leaders that get this part right not only avoid costly mistakes in the digital transformation process but can gain valuable insights into their business and culture.

Adopting a holistic approach to training, learning and development

How can you create a culture that drives innovation and supports the growth and wellbeing of your employees?

Blend tech with tradition

Provide a winning combination of online and offline training, hands-on practical experience, interactive content, and quick reference materials like guides and videos. This diverse approach ensures learners have access to a variety of resources tailored to their individual needs.

Drive continuous learning and upskilling

By emphasising lifelong learning, you’re encouraging employees to regularly update their skills and maintain a ‘growth mindset’. It promotes the idea that learning is a lifelong journey, not a one-time event, and creates champions within the organisation who lead by example.

Focus on collaboration and mentorship

Promote a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration by pairing experienced professionals and trainers with learners. This approach allows individuals to benefit from each other’s expertise, enhancing their skills and sense of purpose while contributing to overall wellbeing.

“One of the main barriers to turning knowledge into action is the tendency to treat talking about something as equivalent to actually doing something about it.”

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action
Sutton, Robert I. and Pfeffer, Jeffrey

Technology alone cannot fill the digital skills gap

Technology needs to be applied thoughtfully with deep consideration of infrastructure, training quality, personalised learning, and the development of soft skills. By addressing the challenges and limitations of technology, organisations can effectively support their digital skills development and stay ahead in the digital age.

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