The digital skills gap is the term used to describe the lack of digital skills employees need in the workplace to keep up with digital demands in their industry. Digital skills could be complex or basic, like being able to use data analysis to help plan projects, or using emails to communicate.

Some employers have developed their workforce during lockdown, with many industries turning to more digital ways to work, and according to The World Economic Forum 2020 report, 94% of UK businesses are looking to further accelerate the digitisation of work processes.

Keep reading to find out more about the digital skills gap in the UK and how it might be solved.

The digital skills gap in the UK

At work, it’s easy to carry on doing what you’ve always done, but technological advances in the workplace aren’t going away anytime soon, so if you’re not investing in learning digital skills to keep up with the competition, you might fall behind.

Take a look at some well-known brands that ceased trading because they didn’t, or couldn’t, keep up with digital advances:

  • Blockbuster: before streaming and satellite TV was readily available to everyone, we had to take a trip to the video rental store to choose a film to watch. Sadly, Blockbuster missed the opportunity to expand into the digital world, and became obsolete
  • Kodak: with the constant improvements to digital photography, Kodak took too long to make a shift to invest in their digital offerings and ended up too far behind their competitors resulting in bankruptcy
  • Woolworths: the demise of a high street favourite for children and adults alike showed us that even the most popular brands aren’t invincible. Woolworths was hit by several challenges, but not being able to adapt to the digital advances being made by its competitors certainly had a part to play.

Why is there a digital skills gap?

Learning digital skills is part of the national curriculum for children in the UK, but how many young people are choosing to develop their digital skills further as a career choice? Not enough according to analysis of data based on graduates from UK universities between 2017-2018. They estimate there could be 178,000-234,000 data roles to be filled, but the potential supply of data scientists from UK universities is unlikely to be more than 10,000 per year.¹

Most businesses know they need to have a digitally savvy work force in order to thrive, so why is there a gap?

  • High demand and short supply: there’s a very high demand for people with digital skills, but not enough qualified individuals to fill the vacancies
  • Time and money: retraining existing staff to learn digital skills can be costly, but without using resources to help the workforce, the business may suffer in the long term
  • Access: not everyone has the same access to learn new digital skills. Individuals wanting to improve their digital expertise may struggle depending on their personal financial situation.

According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport¹ over the last two years, just under half (46%) of businesses have struggled to recruit for roles that require data skills, with one in ten (9%) having difficulty filling a 'data analyst' role, followed by 8% for a 'Head of Data' position.

In the same report, workers said when training is relevant to their day-to-day job, it improved their productivity or innovation and reduced stress levels. Despite the strong interest from workers and the increasing need for data skills, half (50%) had not received any data skills training within the last two years.

Designer browsing sketches to work on

How do you solve the digital skills gap?

Understanding that the gap can’t be filled from university graduates alone, it’s vital to look at upskilling of the current workforce to try and close the gap of digital skills in the workplace.

The World Economic Forum 2020 report states that 98% of companies they surveyed are hoping to retrain their existing staff, with 94% expecting their staff to pick up digital skills on the job.

Some of the ways businesses and individuals can help to close the digital gaps is by doing the following:

1. Identify the gaps

Establishing the digital skills that might be missing from your workplace as an employer or employee is a good place to start. Are your competitors doing better than you? Are other colleagues progressing in their careers ahead of you?

Individuals and business owners both need to establish what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to improve. For individuals, take a look at job descriptions, or have a conversation with your manager or work mentor. If you’re unemployed or looking for your next role, take a look at our blog about digital skills for the workplace to see what might be missing off your skillset.

2. Use online digital skills training

Luckily digital skills training courses can be accessed online through a wide variety of online learning platforms and websites. Some, like Digital Wings, are free. Once you’ve decided what you want to learn about, type it into your browser and see what results you get. Double check the site is legitimate first, and only pay for courses once you’ve read terms and conditions and that you’re comfortable with the learning.

If you’re a business owner, Digital Wings can be used by your staff to learn a variety of digital skills too, if you’d like to find out more about how we can help your workforce e-mail us here.

3. Create a learning framework

Once you’ve identified the gaps you’d like to work on, it’s helpful to set up a learning framework to help you plan how you’re going to achieve your goal, and keep you on track.

Start with the basics and work upwards. It’s important to stay consistent and ensure that all material is understood before progressing.

4. Continuous review

The digital world and digital skills are constantly evolving, what was new last year could be out of date already, so it’s really important to review your knowledge and think about how you can keep up to date with the digital skills that are relevant to you. Why not sign up to newsletters for the industries you’re interested in, and make sure you plan time to complete any training that might be useful to your career.

As the world of business and industry continues to digitise work processes, it’s important for businesses and individuals to take digital skills seriously and invest in them to meet the demands of the future. Training and retraining is the key to closing the digital gap. You could start to gain some digital skills today. Sign up to Digital Wings for free to get started.


For more information, see our Essential Digital Skills courses.

Essential digital skills

Find out more about digital skills for business.

Digital skills for business


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Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.