Globally we are suffering from a digital skills crisis.
The same research found that 72% of UK businesses currently have vacancies open that require digital skills, with 68% claiming they find it hard to acquire digital workers.
The result, according to a recent Salesforce report is that 14 G20 countries could miss out on $11.5 trillion cumulative GDP growth.
It’s clear we’re reaching a crisis point, so why are countries such as the US and UK lagging so much? And what could be done to overcome the digital skills gap?
Barriers to entry
The problem is, of course, multifaceted. But unsurprisingly the leading factor in stopping people from having the right training and tech skills is money.
On the one hand, university has become more academically accessible over the years and there is now a wide range of courses to choose from in the tech sector.
However, the high costs of courses and what is often a lifetime of debt means many from disadvantaged backgrounds are prevented or put off from going; at the moment, the average cost of a degree in the US is $35,551 per student per year.
At the same time, a degree does not always guarantee you’ll be given all the relevant, real-life skills that technologists need for the world of work.
Today, degrees aren’t the only option for higher education. It’s true that there are other potentially more affordable training avenues such as apprenticeships, but sadly they have their pitfalls too.
What’s lacking from apprenticeships?
Apprenticeships have often been the alternative for those who didn’t either want to, or have access to, go to university. However, with data from the UK Government showing that in 2021/22 only 53.4% of all apprenticeships were completed, their efficacy is waning.
The UK Department of Education carried out research to determine the main reasons for apprentices not completing their qualifications.
When questioned on their main reasons for leaving, 41% argued that the course was badly run, while 44% cited time constraints. These apprenticeships are failing people somewhere down the line.
In the US, only 713 apprenticeships were completed that fell under the ‘Professional, Scientific and Technical services’. Research conducted by the US Department of Labor showed that although the number of minority apprentices is slowly rising, there is a lot more work to be done.
Completion rates are low for apprenticeships across all racial groups and sectors at only 35%. However, there is some racial disparity with only 24% of black apprentices completing their courses compares with 33% of white apprentices.
Between March 2021-2022, over two million tech vacancies were listed in the UK, more than any other sector.
Over the pond, it doesn’t get much better, with tech job vacancy postings in the US hitting highs of over 804,000 in 2022.
Globally, we are crying out for more technologists but aren’t promoting alternative and highly effective methods such as technology training academies to achieve this.
Bridging the skills gap
So, with current training and education methods not filling these gaps, what are governments doing? Put simply, not enough.
For the UK, In March’s budget announcement, Jeremy Hunt announced a drive to motivate over-50s back into work through the introduction of ‘returnships’.
These programs are aimed at upskilling and reskilling older workers to re-join the workforce.
Encouraging older workers back into work, or in Jeremy Hunt’s words, ‘get off the golf course’, is one of the ways that the UK Government is trying to tackle the digital skills gap – but this is far from being the full solution.
One of the benefits of bringing on over-50s is that they have the foundational skills and experience of 30+ years in the workforce, something that younger workers simply can’t match.
However, when it comes to tech, it seems that imposter syndrome can be prevalent. The numbers don’t lie and ageism in the technology industry is rife with only 22% of UK tech workers being over 50, putting it way below the average across other sectors.
Enticing over-50s back into work is going to take a lot: the promise of reward and the right support and training is essential.
Tapping into this demographic of potential talent could be a gold mine but it needs to be handled delicately and we are yet to see the results from this.
On the other side, the US in 2021 made significant steps in addressing the gap with a $65 billion budget spread over 8 years to close the gap in the digital infrastructure. Unfortunately, this still falls short of what is needed to solve this equation. According to Harvard Business Review, the budget should be two and a half times larger.
One of the reasons for this is that even as the digital industry exploded out of America, it has lived with a “digital divide”.
There is a gap between those who have access to reliable internet service and those who don’t for example. But the true nature of this divide is often underappreciated. It is going to take a lot more than a quick, albeit large, cash injection to overcome decades of divide.
Ultimately, these types of initiatives are not going to reach their potential for a while and aren’t necessarily a sustainable solution. Governments must turn their attention and focus on the start of the career ladder.
It’s not a lack of talent, it’s a lack of opportunity
Creating a diverse workforce starts with accessible education and training. Unfortunately, current and traditional methods aren’t opening up doors to underrepresented groups.
The digital skills gap is a systematic problem that can be solved by encouraging more young people into tech roles by improving their skills portfolio.
Awareness about what’s out there both for those yet to take a step onto the career ladder and for those up the first few rungs will inevitably see a boost in closing this gap.
Starting people off on the right track is one thing but additional effort is required to keep them on it. Many educational programs focus on providing initial training, whether a degree or a bootcamp.
But they are then sent off into the big-wide world with the hope that they’ll just thrive, or that the organization they work for will have the experience, bandwidth and willingness support, upskill and nurture junior technologists.
But this is not always the case. People need upskilling to support the work they will be doing as well as well-being support.
And when organizations face the pressure of project deadlines, junior individuals can often fall to the wayside.
Without the people to pick them up, clean up the grazes on their knees and give them a pep-talk to go back in, people will leave the industry and never look back. All the hard work and investment are then undone.
Unfortunately, both the US and the UK are missing out on so much potential talent simply because they aren’t giving the correct outlets and chances.
Overcoming this by spreading awareness of other effective and accessible training routes such as Technology Academies will be the start of closing this gap.
We don’t have a talent shortage; we have an opportunity shortage.
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