Digital skills gap narrows “but still persists from classroom to Boardroom” urges Deloitte

Business leaders’ confidence in the digital capabilities of new entrants to the workplace has improved in the last six months. That’s according to the latest Digital Disruption Index issued by Deloitte. 18% of digital leaders believe that school leavers and graduates are entering work with the right digital skills and experience, which is up from a figure of 12% who said the same six months earlier.

The research is based on responses from 158 digital leaders from FTSE-listed companies, large private companies and large UK public sector organisations with a combined market value of £1.38 trillion.

In addition, 25% of respondents said that their current workforce has sufficient knowledge and expertise to execute their organisation’s digital strategy. This represents an increase from 16% since Spring 2018.

Despite digital leaders’ perception of skills among new and current workers improving, more needs to be done to keep up with the pace of the adoption of new technologies within the workplace. As many as 75% of digital leaders in the UK report that technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and the Internet of Things are fundamentally changing their organisation.

Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, partner at Deloitte and author of this year’s Digital Disruption Index, commented: “Companies across the UK are investing significantly in digital technologies in order to transform their businesses. The simple truth is that, without ensuring teams have the right experience, knowledge and abilities to make the most of these technologies, these investments will prove worthless.”

Vernon-Harcourt added: “While it’s promising to see improvements in leaders’ confidence in their workers’ digital abilities, there’s a lot more that still needs to be done and, if left unaddressed, the skills gap could grow to a level that’s hard to fill. Failure to do more to educate both those in the workforce and those in the classroom will leave the UK trailing behind our global peers in the rapidly expanding digital economy.”

Confidence grows among digital leaders

Deloitte’s research also finds that digital leaders’ confidence in their own digital skills has improved. 60% of executives are confident in their own digital skills and ability to lead in the digital economy, which is up from 45% who said the same six months earlier. The findings show that those who were more confident in their own skills were more likely to take responsibility for learning additional digital skills (including through reading non-traditional media and attending their own organisation’s internal learning programmes).

Vernon-Harcourt continued: “Confident digital leaders are more likely to want to learn more about the technology around them. A huge amount of content is easily available for leaders to strengthen their understanding of digital technologies. The key is to make these easy for them to access. To successfully lead an organisation in the digital economy, leaders need to invest huge amounts of energy into learning about new technologies, challenging how these could improve their business and have the confidence to take the lead in driving change.”

Respondents also revealed attitudes around how more internal training is needed. Overall, 65% of executives felt that their organisation’s learning and development doesn’t support the current digital strategy. Previous research from Deloitte highlighted that the majority of UK workers expect their employer to hold the primary responsibility for the development of workplace skills.

Richard Coombes, leader of HR transformation at Deloitte, observed: “Digital skills are not a static set of skills. We live in a world where the half-life of a technical skill is two-and-a-half years at most. On that basis, it shouldn’t be a surprise that people are coming out of education with skills that are already not relevant to the way we work. As such, the importance of lifelong learning and reinvention is crucial for every individual. Meanwhile, for every business, having a learning and development programme which supports the overall digital strategy will be key.”

Safe and ethical development of AI

The latest Digital Disruption Index also shows that the majority of businesses using AI don’t have a strategy in place to ensure that it’s used ethically. 42% of leaders say they have a policy in place to ensure the safe and ethical deployment of AI and data-driven technologies.

Overall, 44% of executives have already invested in AI, while a further 37% expect to invest in this technology over the next two years.

Dr. Matthew Howard, director of AI at Deloitte, concluded: “While humans continue to write code, there’s an inevitable risk that their biases will shape algorithms and the decisions made by a machine. However, a policy isn’t always necessary to ensure that AI is properly governed. AI decision-making should be assessed in the same way as human decision-making and, in most cases, an organisation’s existing ethics policy and procedure should be sufficient. In all instances, an organisation’s values should inform how and why AI is used just as those values are used to inform any other business-centric decision.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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