Are we falling behind in the digital skills race?

In the UK we tend to think that we are ahead of the game when it comes to the digital age but a recent report has found that this might not be the case. The report, by the Commons Science and Technology Committee, suggested that 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills and led MPs to warn that the UK is facing a ‘digital skills crisis.’

But what are digital skills and why do we need them? And is a solution just around the corner?

The Tinder Foundation and GO ON UK created this outline for basic digital skills, which the European Commission regards as essential for citizens to function effectively in a modern society;

  • Managing information – using search engines, bookmarking useful sites and storing data;
  • Communicating – via email, instant messaging and social media, using forums and leaving feedback;
  • Transacting – managing bank accounts, bookings, and buying or selling on the digital marketplace;
  • Problem-solving – self-learning via video lessons, feedback forms and support services; and
  • Creating – producing text documents, social media posts and sharing photo albums;

The Committee’s study found that around 72 per cent of employers avoid interviewing candidates who lack these skills. Explanations for this missing skill set range from ineffective school curriculums, under-qualified teachers and notable inconsistencies between university syllabi and the practical applications of computer skills across the digital economy.

Government plans to tackle these obstacles include curricular reform, replacing the standard ICT qualification with a GCSE in Computer Science, improved industry training and increased work experience opportunities for graduates and apprentices. But in the time it takes for these initiatives to come to fruition, employers may finally be able to access a currently untapped digital resource.

All studies into digital illiteracy record the same conclusion; the older the adult, the less likely they are to meet an employer’s digital requirements. The Tinder Foundation recorded that 93 per cent of 16-24 year olds – “Millenials” or Generation Y – possess all the basic digital skills that their older counterparts lack.

Young people have the advantage of growing up alongside the rise of technology and engaging more with basic computing functions. Within the government’s target timeframe, the young and digitally-savvy will be filling up vacancies and putting their skills to use, while Generation Z – true natives of the digital age – will be building skills in technologies yet to be invented.

The transition of Generations Y and Z into the working world is very likely to resolve the shortage of digital skills in the short term. However with new technologies continuously being developed, it is equally important that the skills of the workforce advance alongside these developments. To facilitate this, the proposed changes to school and university curriculums must be practical and fluid enough to encompass new technologies. Meanwhile, increased development of digital skills in workplaces should prevent current staff members from falling behind.