Mar 04

Digital Skills Gap & The Future of Education

  • Proliferation in digital technologies is fundamentally changing the nature of the workforce ecosystem.
  • This has exposed industry to a digital skills shortage.
  • The challenges this creates should be embraced through innovate solutions that rework traditional employer-employee relationships.

Risks of a Digital Skills Gap

As demand for digital skills outstrips supply, employers across a wider range of sectors are experiencing digital skills gaps within their workforce. By 2024, the AI in education market is set to surpass $6 billion USD by 2024, and so employers need to ensure that digital skills improve continuously across their workforce in order to maximise their competitive potential.

Naturally, immediate areas of interest for public policy are improving digital literacy at primary and secondary education levels. However, digital skills are not a static set of skills. It is estimated that the half-life of technical skills is two-and-a-half years. Thus, the workplace in a digital world should promote lifelong learning and reinvention.

Indeed, 75% of global executives  believe that digital is fundamentally changing their organisation. On the other hand, 65% say that their Learning & Development curriculum does not support their digital strategies. Thus, solutions to the digital skills gap cannot be fully resolved in-house. Experts say that digital will transform traditional employer-employee relationships through the emergence of a diverse workforce ecosystem. Shifts in educational practices are placing more emphasis on employee-driven learning because upskilling existing talent offers practical business continuity.

The extent of the digital skills gap

Analyses that generalise the digital skills gap in stratospheric terms can overlook the extent to which affects business across industry. For example, in the UK, 72% of large companies and 49% of SMEs are suffering from technological skills gaps. Accordingly, solutions should not only be considered at the executive level, but also with smaller companies where the employer-employee dynamic is more visible.

Moreover, the digital skills gap does not only apply to wider workforce. In the c-suite, executive anxiety over technologies may also be holding back education. The percentage of senior leaders who say they are not confident in their own digital skills has risen from 28% to 37%. Therefore, digital solutions cannot be the sole responsibility of top-down organisational structures. Firms will have quickly identify their digital requirements, and more specifically, which skills to develop in-house and which to contract.

The extent of the digital skills gap means that solutions must be identified in the short, mid, and long-term. Strategic planning is required as the Gross Value Added in the technology sector is well above national averages. In the UK, for example, this figure currently stands at £91,800 (2016). In turn, employers should take ownership of digital skills development, researching productivity gaps within their relevant sector. Measures should be embedded within a working culture that highlights the immediate benefits of digitally upskilling to workers, but also ‘future proofs’ existing staff.

Solutions to the Digital Skills Gap and the Future of Education

Employers must assume responsibility for setting the minimum standards for the digital training of new recruits and existing staff. This does not mean reinventing the skill sets of existing employees. Instead, a more nuanced approach is needed that builds on their latent talents and identifies specific areas of improvement. This could be achieved through a mixture of vocational on-the-job training and employer-led short courses with academic accreditation.

Similarly, there has a profound philosophical shift in education. Critically, this is concerned with teaching students and employees how to learn on their own.  This has been referred to winning ‘hearts and minds’ through educational programs. These must provide adequate support so that employees fully understand a new learning approach, how this fits with organisational objectives, and how it will benefit them personally.

By 2020, 81% of companies surveyed in Deloitte’s Digital Disruption Index will have invested in artificial intelligence. Crucially, 75% of executives believe that its implementation has met or exceeded their expectations. This is hugely positive for resolving the digital skills gap going forward. However, the solutions will undoubtedly change structure of the current working environment.

Only 50% of companies have a culture that encourages employees to stretch themselves, try new things, and operate outside of their comfort zone. Thus, closing the digital skills gap requires a personalised and tailored approach to learning.
Experts say that learning alliances will become a feature of B2B cooperation on digital skills because they are an effective way to source L&D content while reducing internal expenditure. Indeed, partnering with professional providers who specialise in digital skills training ensures that content is up to date. In doing so, firms will be able to access the latest analytical tools and technology, which will increase competitiveness.


  • Shortage in ‘suitable digital skills’ is a major risk to business growth and innovation.
  • Shortage of digital skills represents a key bottleneck for industry and is linked to nearly 1 in 5 vacancies.
  • 65% of executives do not believe their L&D curriculum supports their digital strategies.
  • The failure to close the skills gap could result in 14 of the 20 G20 economies forgoing as much as £8.8 trillion in GDP growth promised by investment in intelligent technologies over the next 10 years.
  • According to Mercer’s 2018 Global talent trends survey, 42% of firms have upskilling programs focused on digital skills, 40% are increasing access to online learning, and 38% are deploying rapid internal skills courses.

By Tom Booker
The London School Of Economics