group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company culture

Article by Linda MacDonald, HR Director, Kubrick   

As over 80% of all jobs advertised in the UK now require digital skills, UK businesses are increasingly facing a skills shortage crisis. If left unresolved, estimates suggest the digital skills gap costs the UK economy as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP.

As UK businesses seek to prepare and future-proof themselves for the digital-first age, leadership teams are rightly shifting their focus to ensuring workers are equipped with the necessary digital skills for tomorrow’s economy.

The key to achieving this is by attracting and retaining diverse talent, especially given how fierce the fight for recruits is in the extremely competitive, candidate-hot jobs markets. However, with just one in six UK workers possessing low or no digital skills, a reform across education, industry, and business is urgently needed to create this talent pipeline for UK businesses, prevent the digital skills gap from widening even further, and to support the UK’s post-pandemic recovery.

Following London Tech Week, and the UK Government’s announcement of a new Digital Strategy, our nationwide survey of 18–34-year-old found that much more is required to achieve the necessary digital upskilling. The research findings highlighted how young people in the UK are unlikely to secure highly sought-after roles such as software developers and engineers due to an outdated national curriculum and non-inclusive approaches in recruiting talent.  In fact, one in four adults say digital skills required for jobs in the technology sector were not taught when studying at school, college or university or work.

Alarmingly, the research also showed that 45% of younger workers have expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the technology sector – but lack an understanding of the skills and opportunities open to them. Tackling the issue early on by prioritising the teaching of the required skills in schools is therefore key to building a talent pool of digitally literate candidates.

Accelerating the supply of female digital talent

Despite recent progress made by the technology industry in increasing female representation, reportedly averaging now at 33% of the whole sector, much more needs to be done to accelerate the opportunities for women in technology.

Much like how a key solution to plugging the digital kills gap lies in the teaching of digital skills in schools, an important way to boost female representation in tech is to revaluate the education system. From an early age, boys are encouraged to undertake STEM-related subjects whilst women’s capabilities in these courses are underestimated. A cross-national study of assessment found that the majority of students taking STEM-related courses were boys and girls more often than not dropped out of these subjects.

These academic choices made by children from an early age are translating into their future choices in the job market. Data from 2020 showed that women made up 14% of the cloud computing workforce, 20% of engineering, 32% of data and AI workforces. Tackling the issue early on and encouraging girls to take STEM-related subject will boost the pipeline of female talent and create more of an inclusive culture.

Fostering more diverse workforces

Thinking about inclusivity in broader terms, creating the right environment in tech for diverse people can be hugely beneficial for companies. Improving DE&I is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a business-critical function in the increasingly digital world. Indeed, a landmark World Economic Forum report from 2020 finds how companies with diverse employees record a 20% higher rate of innovation and 19% higher innovation revenues.

Building a diverse workforce starts with the hiring process and businesses with inclusive recruitment models are best positioned. With over a third (37%) of 18–34-year-olds saying they would be more attracted to a career in technology if there were more diverse role models to mirror, the opportunity is clear for companies that implement diverse hiring models. Hiring diverse talent at all levels, from entry level to senior leadership, will create a pathway for others to follow and allow businesses to benefit from a broader talent pool of candidates.

One of the biggest challenges businesses face right now is attracting and retaining talent. Companies which are therefore willing to invest in candidates open to careers in the technology sector are best positioned to outcompete their peers.

However, over the longer term, the government needs to make digital skills a central part of the national curriculum and its Levelling Up agenda. Only root and branch reform will create the next generation of tech talent, setting UK business up for success in the digital-first world.

Digital literacy and capabilities are vital for achieving not only economic prosperity – but also in creating more inclusive work environments and tapping into the vast pools of diverse talent the UK has to offer.

Linda MacDonaldAbout the author

Linda joined Kubrick in November 2020, following HR leadership roles at Coca-Cola, Unilever, and RBS, to cultivate Kubrick’s development-driven, people-centric ethos. As HR Director, she focuses on creating opportunity for development across departments which aligns and assists in the business’ mission to build tomorrow’s workforce.