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Andrea Chadwick

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Want to empower employees to bridge the digital skills gap? Start at home…


The UK is facing a much reported shortage of digital skills, which is currently costing the economy an estimated £63bn a year - according to a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

Yet, while recent Government figures put 12.6 million Britons at risk of being left behind in terms of skills needed, Parliamentary plans to address this issue still focus firmly on education and increasing access to apprenticeship schemes, rather than addressing the root problem.

While these initiatives are admirable, and certainly having an impact in raising the standard of digital literacy within the UK, the responsibility to upskill the nation’s workforce also resides with employers themselves. Formal training for specific job roles is of course a necessity, but wider gaps such as computer literacy and confidence with the basics in the rapidly evolving world of tech are fast becoming a fundamental element for any business.

As technology continues to impact more and more of our daily lives, employers need to ensure that staff members feel confident with the technology their exposed to on a daily basis, especially if they’re going to feel truly comfortable in their roles and as part of the wider team.

But where does this monolithic task to close a skills gap, which is only growing further and further apart, begin? The answer is not at work at all, but in the home.

Lack of exposure to tech

According to a recent Ofcom report (2015), access to reliable (and fast) broadband, a person's age, and socioeconomic backgrounds are all factors which impact the development of technological and digital skills.

Daily exposure to technology has a direct correlating effect as to how quickly awareness and ability of new skills are developed, yet many who use technology in the workplace are excluded from advancing their skills by lack of access to it at home. To illustrate, the same Ofcom report revealed that smartphone take-up varies from 67% in England to 63% in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and household ownership of tablets differs by 8% on average between Wales and Scotland.

What this reveals is that while employers might be working hard to bring their employees skills up to par, the lack of exposure which the average person receives on the day-to-day is massively impacting the confidence of user and in turn, driving the skills gap further apart.

31% of people lack even basic digital problem solving skills

As technology continues to evolve and become ingrained in our daily lives, there is considerable pressure beginning to build in workplaces for employees to be competent and skilled. Yet according to a recent study by Barclays, 31% of people lack even basic digital problem solving skills which in turn is causing a greater internal rift between the digitally-savvy and those less skilled, who are often reluctant to acknowledge a lack of understanding to colleagues in an effort to appear skilled.

Having regular access to the actual, up-to-date kit in question enables skills to be developed and honed more quickly and effectively. Therefore, it stands to reason that improving access to technology both at work and at home, is core to creating the ideal environment for employees to develop digital skills, both inside and outside the workplace.

This may seem like a daunting task, especially for larger organisations with vast numbers of employees, all at varying levels of skill and ability, to consider. However, there are number of simple steps employers can take to help their employees increase access to technology and so improve their digital skills across the board.

A long term investment

A good place for many employers to start is to offer a technology-based benefit option, helping to lower the monthly costs of purchasing the latest tech for the home and thereby making it more accessible to wider team members.

By splitting costs monthly through a benefit like a salary sacrifice scheme, along with the tax-benefits and the lack of interest normally associated with credit cards or pay-day loans, brand names and up-to-date tech become far more accessible and help break down the initial price barriers to entry. All of this helps to build the individual employees own skills and confidence, whilst bridging the internal rift caused by the digital-savvy divide – home is where access to and use of tech can become habit and skills more ingrained.

For the employer, such home technology benefit schemes generate significant savings through reduced employers NI and require no capital outlay, while at the same time empowering employees to take upgrading their digital skills into their own hands. These type of offers also help to promote greater employee loyalty through higher participation in benefits programmes, as the employee feels the employer is investing in them as a person and not just as staff.

Businesses need to embrace what they can do in the short term in order to reap the dividends in the long run

Through these type of schemes, business and HR strategies can be fulfilled simultaneously whilst empowering employees to take their own training into their everyday lives. Which in turn, helps businesses to enhance its existing staff and prepare them for the digital-first world in which we operate today.

But in order to affect true digital development, businesses need to embrace what they can do in the short term in order to reap the dividends in the long run. Providing ways for employees to access to technology in the home may seem like a small step on a very long journey, but in conjunction with offering relevant training courses for each employee's role, salary sacrifice schemes can open the digital door to more skilled employees. And ultimately, happier and more engaged team members too. 

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Andrea Chadwick


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