The continued troublesome shortage of digital skills

If the UK is to maintain its position in the global economy, it’s crucial that we address the skills shortage now. Targeted recruitment may be part of the answer, but it’s only a short term fix. We need to focus on upskilling our current workforce, to give them the competencies needed to thrive not only today but in the coming years.

We often talk about the digital skills gap here in the UK – but even so, it’s shocking that three quarters of business leaders admit there is still a clear lack of skills in their organisation. Regina Moran, VP, Head of Industry Consulting and Software Solutions, EMEIA BAS at Fujitsu:

This is clearly a very pressing issue for businesses on the ground, as almost all (92 percent) are taking steps to increase their access to digital expertise. Critically, four-in-five businesses say that this lack of skills is the main factor preventing them from addressing their cyber security, meaning that a lack of skills is leaving businesses potentially vulnerable to crippling attacks.

If the UK is to maintain its position in the global economy, it’s crucial that we address the skills shortage now. Targeted recruitment may be part of the answer, but it’s only a short term fix. We need to focus on upskilling our current workforce, to give them the competencies needed to thrive not only today but in the coming years. Alongside that, we must also encourage the next generation of workers to develop their STEM and digital skills – and the only way to do that is to tackle STEM’s long standing image problem, showcasing how exciting digital jobs can be, both within tech and other sectors.

The digital pace of change is only set to increase. As a nation, we must not only acknowledge the importance of digital skills to our future but work together to address these shortages, today. Otherwise the UK may very well struggle in the age of digital. A study to explore how organisations approach and deliver digital transformation has revealed a UK business community which recognises the importance of digital to respond to new technology and competition but is struggling to deliver, losing more on cancelled digital projects than their counterparts worldwide. Of 150 UK business leaders surveyed for Fujitsu’s study, The Digital Transformation PACT, 42 percent have cancelled a digital transformation project in the last two years at an average cost of £483,690 per project. This compares to an average cost of £423,534 within businesses globally.

Assessing where challenges arise, the digital skills gap is cited as a serious hindrance with 73 percent of UK leaders admitting to a clear lack of digital skills within their organisation. As a result, 87 percent say attracting digitally native staff will be vital to their success in the next three years. The research commissioned by Fujitsu examines how businesses are performing against the four strategic elements Fujitsu believes are required to digitally transform successfully: People, Actions, Collaboration and Technology (PACT). UK businesses appreciate the importance of digital transformation, as most (41 percent) have already implemented digital projects, while 79 percent are prepared to adapt their business model to respond to technological change. This focus appears to be driven by digital demands from external forces – 82 percent say their customers expect them to be more digital and 71 percent believe they are behind their competition in using digital to deliver for their customers.

“UK businesses know how powerful technology can be and want to use digital to deliver for customers and keep ahead of the competition,” said ‎Ravi Krishnamoorthi, Head of Business Consulting, Digital & Application Services at Fujitsu EMEIA. “However, digital transformation is about much more than the technology alone. Businesses need to have the right skills, processes and partnerships in place – and that’s where we’re seeing UK executives struggling. We’re living in a time when digital disruption can change the business landscape virtually overnight, so UK organisations must ensure that they can transform successfully and secure their place in the global landscape.”

UK businesses consider people the most important part of the digital transformation mix (36 percent), and the vast majority (92 percent) are taking steps to increase their access to digital expertise and address their skills gaps. The most popular measure is targeted recruitment (49 percent), followed by apprenticeships (40 percent). However, 82 per cent admit that the lack of skills in their organisation is the biggest hindrance to addressing cyber security. Looking to the future, skills will continue to be a key business issue; 93 percent say upskilling staff will be vital to their organisation’s success in the next three years, while 83 percent believe artificial intelligence will transform the skills needed by 2020.

Looking at actions, meaning the processes and behaviours needed to make digital transformation work, 94 percent of UK business leaders say their organisation has a clearly defined digital strategy, while 81 percent are confident that the rest of the business knows what it is. However, three quarters (74 percent) say that projects are often undertaken that aren’t linked to the overarching business strategy, while 70 percent say shadow digital projects are the only way parts of the organisation can complete meaningful innovation. Crucially, 7 in 10 (69 percent) say the cost of failure has put them off future digital transformation.

UK business leaders are taking positive steps in collaboration, with most businesses undertaking or planning to undertake co-creation projects (65 percent), with partners including existing customers (53 percent) and technology experts (51 percent). Surprisingly, 77 percent would even be willing to share sensitive information as part of these co-creation projects; however, 74 percent say that a lack of success within a quick timeframe would quickly put an end to their strategic partnerships.

And when it comes to technology, UK business leaders are planning to implement a wide range of systems; in the next 12 months, over half are planning to introduce cyber security solutions (51 percent) or the Internet of Things (45 percent). More than other nations worldwide, UK businesses underline the importance of artificial intelligence to their financial (56 percent) and operational (53 percent) success over the next ten years. Business leaders are aware of the disruptive impact of technological change, as 84 percent say the ability to change will be crucial to their survival in the next five years. However, 67 percent are concerned about their organisation’s capacity to adapt to technologies like artificial intelligence.

Krishnamoorthi continued, “The pace of technological change is only continuing to grow, and UK businesses must adapt if they are to keep up with their competition worldwide. It’s extremely positive that businesses are ready to adapt to new technology, but to do so they must look at more than the technologies themselves. Businesses must take steps to address their skills gaps, including upskilling their existing staff and attracting new talent. Executives have to instill a culture that fosters and supports innovation, with the processes in place to make use of new tools. And finally all UK organisations must recognise the power of true collaboration, to deliver extraordinary new ideas. Only by bringing balance to the four vital elements of People, Actions, Collaboration and Technology can UK busineses hope to thrive in the digital age.”

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