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Matthew Bamford
Dec 1, 2021

The Digital Skills GAP: What’s all the fuss about?

The “skills gap” refers to a mismatch between the skills that employers need in their employees, and the skills that job seekers actually possess. According to recent research, 89% of employers struggle to recruit the skilled staff they need and a further 38% believe that the UK education system is failing to create the skills required. 

More often than not, current skills shortages frequently revert back to a lack of digital literacy and technical skills. This can be seen by the stark demand for tech talent, outpacing an already short supply of skilled workers. 

Emerging technologies amplify the need for digital skills in the current job market, whilst high costs and disorganised higher educational institutions fail to recognise that their traditional approach to education only increases these barriers by providing out of date learning to students - most often young people.

This mismatch makes it difficult for individuals to find jobs and for employers to find appropriately trained workers.

  • According to the Open University, the lack of skilled workers available is costing companies around £2.2 billion a year in higher salaries and temporary resourcing.
  • Meanwhile, the British Chambers of Commerce found that 52% of firms say that skills shortages are increasing the workload for existing staff – which only further disrupts supply chain productivity.

Why Is The Digital Skills Gap So Important?

In order for businesses (small and large) to be productive, they need a workforce who have the skills to generate this productivity, and currently, the skills we need are digital. Data security, IT and Cloud Skills, Digital Marketing, Software Developers (to name a few) are experiencing huge skills shortages. 

In 2016, IBM prophesied that the digital skills gap would stifle the growth of the technological industry - not only due to the lack of existing talent, but a failure to keep up with the growing demand.

The Tech sector has frequently demonstrated its importance for the future of the economy, especially over the last 18 months. At present, the digital sector remains a key player in the fight against COVID-19, providing invaluable support to the NHS through:

  • The Track & Trace App, which utilises Bluetooth technology to trace potential carriers that you may have been in contact with.
  • Digital passports which confirm your vaccination status, essential for safe travel, enabling a large number of businesses to run completely remotely.

Certainly, returning to work was a time for great celebration. However, we may find ourselves stuck later down the line. This is when the lack of investment towards bridging the skills gap, worsened by COVID-19’s hit to the education system, will emerge. Therefore, it is crucial that there is ongoing investment into digital skills to ensure the digital industry can continue to run and innovate efficiently. 

How Can Digital Apprenticeships Help to Bridge the Digital Skills GAP?

According to Deloitte, just 12% of graduates have enough digital skills for the workplace– down from 20%. The structure of a 3-4-year university degree means that graduates enter the workforce with skills that are slightly outdated in the world of tech, often without the critical workplace experience they’ll need to attract the attention of employers.

However, apprenticeships typically take 13- 14 months to complete (depending on the chosen pathway) combined with on-the-job training and experience, apprentices contribute more value to businesses and faster. IT and digital apprenticeships – like our level 4 Data Analyst and level 3 Digital Marketing Executive – are in line with the trend of growing higher level, higher-skilled apprenticeships. 

A recent study on the skills gaps and shortages revealed that: 

  • 32% of employers found that specialist roles such as digital analysts, engineers, marketing and IT staff were amongst the most difficult to fill.
  • At the same time, over a quarter (25.5%) of graduates who are employed are in unskilled or low-skilled roles.

So, it’s clear there is a mismatch between what employers need and what the current cohort of new starters can provide. Certainly, educational institutions need to become better aligned with the current needs of the industry. 

Without a doubt, some universities are too slow to adapt to future workforce skill demands, favouring a theoretical (and often outdated) approach to learning. It is, therefore, essential that we continue to bridge this gap by developing the young, talented, and digitally native generation, equipping them with what they need to walk into high-skilled jobs where they are valued.

Can Digital Apprenticeships Offer a Long Term Solution?

Apprenticeships are an undervalued route into the workplace. 

When hiring, many companies continue to favour other qualifications such as a University degree. According to recent research, 42% of people think an apprenticeship provides better preparation for the future than university, which gives great insight into the changing perceptions surrounding education.

Digital apprenticeships (in particular), bring a huge return on investment for businesses. Upskilling an existing employee through apprenticeship training can provide a great saving compared to the expected cost of hiring a new team member to fill an internal skills gap. 
Moreover, using apprenticeships to provide internal development opportunities for your employees can greatly improve staff morale. By investing in their skill development, employees feel valued and enjoy working for your company - something we’re particularly passionate about here at Apprentify.

By deciding to implement an apprenticeship scheme, you put your business in a better position - having a steady flow of skilled employees entering the company, results in a more diverse, efficient and productive workforce.

In 2017, the UK’s digital strategy included a commitment to work with employers and education providers to develop new ‘digital apprenticeship’ schemes to ensure candidates can quickly build the advanced digital skills that employers crave.

The Real Answer:

Apprenticeships are already a proven solution to filling the digital skills gap. 

Amazon recently pledged to create more than 1,000 apprenticeship roles before 2021, showing confidence in the levy as a means of filling their skills gaps. 

Furthermore, according to Reed, 85% of apprentices stay in full-time employment after completing their programme, of which 64% stay with their current employer, higher than a non-apprentice hire.

Apprenticeships are, therefore, a long-term solution to plugging the digital skills gap and reviving the UK economy. Not only do apprenticeships provide new skills to a generation of people entering the workplace, they can also be used to upskill the existing workforce. 
At Apprentify, our apprenticeship training is continuously updated to ensure that those undertaking the courses have the latest skills that are needed to make a real impact.

This, combined with the fact that apprenticeships take half the time of university degrees, is what makes them so vital in the answer to the UK’s digital skills GAP. 

Here at Apprentify, we are seeing forward thinking employers taking a serious look at their talent strategy and utilising digital apprentices to not only fill these gaps, but transition into a new era of talent. Over a few months, our Digital apprenticeship provides candidates with the crucial skills that are the same levels as a graduate with three years of education, driving better talent ROI.

Interested to find out more? Discover our full range of insights here, or browse our latest apprenticeships. Together, let’s bridge the skills gap.