Bridging the digital skills gap

10 January 2018

With the government acknowledging that a lack of digital skills costs the economy tens of billions of pounds every year, we look at what companies can do to maximise their return on new technology.

There is no shortage of opinion on how the UK’s ‘digital skills crisis’ should be addressed, much of which focuses on encouraging more young people to pursue careers in technology.

Doniya Soni, TechUK’s Policy Manager for Skills, Talent and Diversity, says the industry and government must work together to ensure young people are prepared for jobs of the future as digital skills become part of every role.

There are also calls for employers to offer in-house training to ensure digitally proficient workers are able to keep their skills up to date.

Capita IT Professional Services’ Business Development Manager, Ali Subhan, suggests that, with around three quarters of a million technology positions in the UK remaining unfilled, companies need to emphasise training within speciality fields and capture the imaginations of students before they choose the higher education route.

A report published by Intern Tech earlier this year suggested that the university system is failing students and businesses, with 45 per cent of graduates saying internships and work placements have been more valuable to them than degrees in their professional life and 28 per cent believing their university education was ‘outdated’.

Industry impact

So how is this issue affecting the financial services, manufacturing and construction sectors?

Many sectors of the manufacturing industry could struggle to recruit sufficient numbers of skilled employees post-Brexit, says Peter Cant, Head of JLT Specialty’s Reading Risk Practice.

“In some cases, though, investment in new technology reduces the number of highly skilled operatives,” he explains.

“For example, a client has recently invested in computer-run machines that require minimal human interaction.”

Research conducted by Oxford Economics found that developing digital skills is a priority for financial services firms, with digital proficiency as the most important quality for a manager of the future to possess.

However, it also advises these firms to focus on digital transformation – not just technology – as a new wave of technologies hit the market and threaten existing ways of doing business.
PwC’s global financial services HR Consulting Leader, Jon Terry, says demands for talent stretch from industrial engineers for robotics work to executives with a background in analytics and innovation.

Actions taken to address skills shortages among the financial services companies surveyed by PwC include changing strategies for recruitment, retention and development.

Almost two thirds of organisations said they had added digital training to their learning programmes, while half were exploring the benefits of humans and machines working together.

Terry warns that slow and uncertain responses to the talent demands CEOs are reporting are leaving too many established financial services organisations on the back foot, facing growing skills gaps.

Training has the potential to mitigate this risk. A study by Fintech Circle Institute reported that more than two thirds of financial services professionals say lack of training is the biggest factor preventing them developing their digital skills.

Dave Cahill, JLT Construction’s Business Development Leader, observes that the University of Waterloo’s Future of Construction report suggests firms need to make the most of older, more experienced employees by embracing new technologies and using manufacturing methods that are less physically demanding.

Some of the options here include greater use of prefabrication techniques, increasing automation and human-robot collaboration.

“There is huge demand for more skilled labour in the construction sector and companies are already experiencing shortages,” says Cahill. “Offsite construction and modularisation can mitigate the impact of skills shortages.”

The effect of BIM

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is already having an impact. BIM is defined as a collaborative way of working, underpinned by digital technologies that enable more efficient methods of designing, creating and maintaining built assets.

It embeds key product and asset data in a three- dimensional computer model that can be used for effective management of information throughout a project life cycle.
Cahill notes that the ability for all members of a project team to work on a live model will create issues around liability – in the event of a fault being introduced to a model – as well as around intellectual property.

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 For further information please contact Peter Cant, Head of JLT Specialty’s Reading Risk Practice on +44 (0)118 945 0107