Digital training and the digital skills gap – a research paper

Digital Skills Gap Research

Recently I’ve been working on a research piece into the digital skills gap, working with some colleagues at MintTwist and in partnership with City Short Courses (part of City University London).

We surveyed over 100 students who had attended a digital marketing short course at City. The survey carried out provides an insight into how developing digital skills could affect an individual’s career prospects and the challenges facing companies who have a digital skills gap.

At MintTwist, we’re passionate about all things digital – whether it’s SEO campaigns, PPC projects, email marketing strategies, social, content and so on. And hiring people with the enough digital skills to join our teams can be a difficult challenge. We were really keen to explore this topic further with City and excited to present to the research paper to you.

You can download the full Digital Training and the Digital Skills Gap research paper here.

What is the Digital Skills Gap?

Let’s go back to basics, what is the digital skills gap everyone keeps talking about? The digital skills gap refers to the growing shortage in digital skills required for future industries and jobs within a technologically advanced economy (especially when in relation to technology, the Internet and so on).

It is becoming an increasing problem for both the Government and companies as new technologies emerge and the digital sector continues to grow, while the skills of employees are unable to progress with this rapid change. Employees are also facing the problem of automation and a lack of digital skills is a very real threat for future employment prospects when traditional career paths can now be automated and done by robots.

Government schemes to solve the issue

According to the charity Go ON UK, “over 12 million people do not have the skills to prosper in the digital era,” with 35% of jobs becoming automated.

In order to overcome this problem, the House of Lords’ Digital Skills Committee report has recommended that digital literacy should become an integral aspect of a child’s education. This led to the Government implementing a computer curriculum into the education system in 2014 and investing an extra £20 million by 2020 to the budget of £3.5 million already invested.

The report also states that the Internet ought to be accessible to the entire population. For example, Go ON UK have found that Wales have the lowest levels of Internet access which has resulted in the majority of the population lacking digital skills. In addition to this, there are still 10% who are lacking a decent connection to the Internet. This 10% includes those that are in remote areas lacking the infrastructure to provide them with the Internet and digital skills associated with it.

Digital training and the digital skills gap research paper

As technology continually evolves at a rapid rate, it has become a major problem for many companies and industries as they struggle to keep up with everyday changes. In order to keep up with technology, it has become apparent that employers must bridge the digital skills gap within the workforce. One way in which they are able to do so is by investing in digital short course programmes.

Below we have summarised some of our key findings.

Three key trends

The survey found that three key trends facing companies are

Changing pace of digital

The digital market is evolving at a rapid rate faster than what companies are able to keep up with, thus resulting in companies facing multiple issues as they attempt to stay up to date.

Data from our research found that 19% of companies identified this as an issue and 16% of respondents claimed this was an issue for their industry.

Competitors

There has been a significant change in consumer behaviour as 40% of online retail sales occurred via a mobile phone. This can be attributed to the emergence of smartphones. In order to keep up to date with this change in behaviour companies must be kept up to date and can do so through digital skills. The data from the survey indicates that those with a background in retail believe that the digital market has allowed for competition to become a more equal playing field.

The research findings indicate that this trend accounts for 15% of the issues facing companies and 16% facing industries.

Training, skills and lack of resources

This trend is the biggest challenge out of the three trends facing companies. The report Developing Skills for Today’s Digital Organisations concluded that the training schemes provided by companies are not in sync with their overall digital strategy. For example, they found out that the companies surveyed only spend 20% of its training budget on digital skills.

This represents 26% of the total issues faced by companies in our survey.

Size of company

The data from the survey has determined that no matter how big or small the company is, there is a digital skills gap within all company sizes. Therefore, the size of the company does not have an impact on the digital skills gap.

However, the size of the company does influence the challenges that arise from the digital skills gap. For example, a company of over 100 employees will face challenges such as “production/implementation of IT and marketing departments and adapting to the digital market”. Whereas, a company with between 1-100 employees will face challenges of competing with competitors as they attempt to keep up with them, training staff and recruiting new staff members.

Job role

Findings from the research suggests that the main reason for attending a digital skills course is to gain further training and knowledge in digital skills.

The majority, 77%, of those who took part in the survey hope that attending a digital skills course will provide them with new career opportunities. In addition to this, 81% of the respondents say these courses have improved their knowledge and understanding of digital skills.

Data from the survey also indicates that those who have a senior management role are more likely to attend a digital skills course to improve their knowledge, whereas those in lower positions are driven by new career opportunities.

Importance of content

The importance of content has been increasing over the last few years as indicated by the Econsultancy Marketing Budgets 2015 report. The report highlights that investment in content was projected to increase by 73% in 2015. This investment reflects the high priority of content within companies.

Spotlight on retail

13% of those surveyed have a background in retail and deem knowledge of the digital marketing area important in this sector. They have attributed this knowledge to helping them provide new content, reaching a younger market and keeping up with everyday changes in the market.

Spotlight on teaching/education

This was the second largest sector (13%) surveyed. The respondents feel that the digital skills gap has caused the issue of engaging with students in new creative methods while staying up to date with the technology available. The survey has also determined that in addition to the issues, the respondents are motivated in attending a digital skills course in search of new job responsibilities/opportunities and to gain a better understanding of digital.

So in conclusion – the digital skills gap is real, and it will be extremely interesting to see how the Government and companies respond to the growing challenge that does not yet appear to be close to solving. And although Generation Z and the future generations to come will be digital natives, this may not be enough to close the digital skills gap.

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