How to Become an In-Demand Digital Professional in the UK

There has been extensive discussion about the digital skills shortage in the UK and its potential to pose a threat to the economy costing £140 billion in lost growth in the next decade.

The digital skills crisis is a complex issue that stems from the rapid pace of technological change, a lack of appropriate training, restricted access to skilled workers, and regional concerns. In addition, the uncerrtainty of Brexit has made employers nervous and unsure about the future of their company and workforce.

However, if leveraged correctly, the skills gap can create new career opportunities for graduates and professionals willing to learn and bolster their skills.

In this article, we’ll explore the key reasons and challenges behind the skills shortage in the United Kingdom and ways to boost and advance your career.

The Digital Skills Shortage in the UK

Digital technologies have made their way into most aspects of life, from shopping and banking through to work and relationships. For people without the necessary skills to fully participate, the prospect of future developments and integration can be daunting.

It’s estimated that within the next ten years, around 12% of the British population will lack basic digital literacy. This will be most acutely seen in certain groups, such as the older generation and those who aren’t confident using new technology.

The ability of the British workforce to adapt to changing technology is fundamental to the economy’s future success, particularly in view of potential economic and political turbulence in the near future.

Knowing and understanding this means you can set yourself up for career success.

Current Challenges in the UK Workforce

Rapidly-Changing Technologies

The evolution of interaction

The fast-paced development of AI technologies, particularly automation, has made a substantial impact on how British people work.

Threats of job losses get the biggest headlines, and for professionals in sectors susceptible to automation – such as manufacturing,retail, and finance – this is a legitimate concern.

However, emerging AI technologies also presents opportunities for new types of job. The success of this transtition to a new technological career depends on the quality and relevance of your training.

Lack of Broad Digital Skills

Many professionals who are unfamiliar with emerging technologies in a broader sense may feel intimidated by the prospect of changes to their jobs.

Although the hysteria surrounding widespread job losses is largely unfounded, it is likely to be low-skilled workers who are hit hardest by automation.

Without a foundation in digital literacy, it can be difficult to acquire the skills you need to succeed. This is particularly true for older workers.

In fact, 40% of employers decide to hire younger people with an existing knowledge base, rather than train existing staff. This perpetuates the disconnect between unskilled workers and the digital economy.

Competition for Skilled Workers

One of the fundamental concepts of economics is supply and demand. When supply shrinks, prices go up.

The lack of digitally-skilled workers to fill vacant positions has contracted the supply side of the job market, creating excessive competition and meaning good candidates can attract a higher wage.

Regional Concerns

Proportion of population with basic digital skills

It probably won’t come as a surprise to find that London is the technology epicentre of the United Kingdom. But there are other hubs with a strong presence, including Manchester, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Bath, and Bristol.

Across these hubs, a common issue was – as discussed above – a lack of access to skilled workers. Adjacent problems included a high cost of living, inadequate access to workspace, and increased competition.

In addition, a lack of funding has been identified as a growing concern across the UK. This could present further issues down the line, as new positions have fewer training opportunities for job progression.  

Brexit

The dreaded B word. It’s estimated that leaving the European Union could result in a skilled labour force exodus of up to one million workers away from the UK.

The reduced flow of talent from the EU is likely to exacerbate the existing shortage, making the job market even more competitive.

How Can You Make the Most of The Digital Skills Gap?

It’s estimated that for every £1 channeled into digital education now will be worth £15 in 2028. Meaning that for professionals this should be the best approach to making the most of the UK skills gap.

A 1,500% return is unmissable for any good entrepreneur, and when it comes to future-proofing a workforce, it’s absolutely essential. But how can it be done? Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can do this…

Upskill

Add to your existing skills and experience to make yourself a well-rounded candidate that will stand out from increasing competition. Learning the foundation of digital skills can be done in many ways and provide value to prospective employers.

For example, informal apprenticeships, or working with mentors can help you upskill and create a springboard into your new digital skillset, all whilst making you a more attractive candidate.

It’s also worth noting that the British government is taking the lead by offering basic digital skills training to all adults, free of charge, from 2020. Although this doesn’t solve the skills deficit in its entirety, this initiative will prevent previously unskilled workers from falling behind in the digital economy. It’s a good start.

Network

It’s often more about who you know that what, when it comes to securing coveted roles for digital professionals.

Becoming part of a network not only allows for better opportunities, but often gives you more access to information, trends, and industry discussion to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the sector.

Knowledge is power, and in an industry that is growing at a hefty pace, you never know which of your networks you may need to tap into.

Swap Jobs For New Learning

Professionals can also help each other with career development by organising job swaps to learn new skills from each other.

This is also where networking comes in and can allow you to further upskill with fewer costs and better experiences with new brands or organisations.

Job swapping also allows you to get a ‘foot in the door’ to get the experience you need.

Stay Up-To-Date With Trends

In the constantly changing landscape of the digital industry, alongside the current uncertain economical climate in the UK, the importance of staying up-to-date with trends is bigger than ever.

Staying at the forefront of the digital industry also gives you an edge when making applications and approaching potential employers, so make sure to follow publications like:

Conclusion

The workplace of the future will have an even greater depth of digital integration. So, it’s important to make sure you have the basics locked down, and encourage others to the same.

Distance or online learning is also rapidly increasing, allowing you to boost your formal qualifications without having to give up your current job role to do this. It provides an excellent intermediary for those who are midway through their careers but want to develop into the digital sector. For those who don’t like a classroom, online or otherwise, finding companies that are willing to provide in-house training can offer longevity and further opportunities to your career.

For professionals, the key to making the most of the UK skills gap is knowledge, and staying updated in the industry. Further bolstering your skills and experience will set you apart from other candidates, but those showing the flexibility and adaptability to change in this fluid landscape will, ultimately, come out on top.