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Summary

The UK government has announced that more than 4 million free digital skills training opportunities will be created as part of a Digital Strategy to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business, and to ensure that everyone can participate in the digital economy.

Developing the skills and confidence to make the most of the digital economy

The UK government wants to ensure that everyone has the skills they need to flourish in a digitally driven economy, but a recently published study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) paints a gloomy picture for employers looking to recruit individuals with strong digital skills. The report details the results of an international assessment of adults aged 16–65, measuring proficiency in key information-processing skills. Part of the study looked at the digital problem-solving capabilities of 215,000 adults in more than 40 countries against three proficiency levels, each with its own distinct criteria:

Level 1:

  • Can complete tasks in which the goal is explicitly stated and for which the necessary operations are performed in a single and familiar environment.
  • Can solve problems in the context of technology-rich environments whose solutions involve a relatively small number of steps and a limited amount of monitoring across a large number of actions.

Level 2:

  • Can complete problems that have explicit criteria for success, a small number of applications, and several steps and operators.
  • Can monitor progress toward a solution and handle unexpected outcomes or impasses.

Level 3:

  • Can complete tasks involving multiple applications, a large number of steps, impasses, and the discovery and use of ad hoc commands in a novel environment.
  • Can establish a plan to arrive at a solution and monitor its implementation as they deal with unexpected outcomes and impasses.

The OECD UK data indicates that 29.3% of 16–65 year-olds have proficiency Level 2, but only 5.7% have proficiency Level 3. This is slightly above OECD averages (25.7% and 5.4%), but noticeably below countries such as New Zealand (34.0% and 10.2%), Sweden (35.2% and 8.8%), and Finland (33.2% and 8.4%).

The UK government has committed to help adults who lack core digital skills to access training free of charge, like the approach taken for literacy and numeracy. Led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the strategy relies on pledges from private sector organizations:

  • Google will launch a Summer of Skills program in coastal towns across the UK. It will develop bespoke digital skills training schemes to help boost tourism and growth in seaside towns.
  • Lloyds Banking Group is to give face-to-face digital skills training to 2.5 million individuals, small and medium-sized businesses, and charities by 2020. The training, as part of its Helping Britain Prosper Plan, will include internet banking.
  • Barclays will assist up to 1 million people with general digital skills and cyber awareness in 2017, grow its UK Eagle Lab network by up to 100%, and teach basic coding to 45,000 children.
  • BT will expand its Barefoot Computing Project to enable a further 500,000 children to develop early computational thinking skills by the end of the 2017/18 academic year. The scheme helps primary school teachers with no previous computer science background feel confident to teach the new computing science curriculum.
  • The HP Foundation will bring a free online learning platform – HP LIFE – to the UK. This will improve business, IT, and digital skills for disadvantaged groups in the UK and aims to reach 6,000 new UK users over the next five years.
  • Accenture will partner with FutureLearn to develop a new national digital skills program to boost learning through online collaboration. Through partners, the program could reach as many as 100,000 people across the UK.

In most countries and economies, proficiency in information-processing skills is positively associated with the probability of being employed and earning higher wages. Of concern to those developing digital transformation strategies will be the fact that a third of employed adults aged 16 to 29 have no work-related computer experience, and that most millennials, contrary to popular belief, have poor digital problem-solving skills. The OECD UK data suggest that only 6.6% of 16–24 year-olds possess Level 3 proficiency when it comes to problem solving in technology-rich environments, so relying on pledges and charity might not be the most deterministic route to future economic prosperity. Ovum's advice to proactive individuals – including business leaders and professionals – is to seek digital skills training as a matter of urgency, as this will undoubtedly influence future success and prosperity.

Appendix

Further reading

"Digital transformation initiatives hampered by poor ICT skills," IT0021-000194 (August 2016)

OECD (2016), Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Digital Economy 2025: Core Scenario, TE0009-001462 (October 2015)

Author

Richard Edwards, Principal Research Analyst, Enterprise Productivity & Mobility

richard.edwards@ovum.com

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