Two-thirds of businesses can’t fill critical tech roles, survey suggests

4 Jun 2019 By Lauren Brown

With needs for digital skills set to ‘skyrocket’, experts warn employers must invest in their workforce now or risk falling behind 

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of UK businesses have unfilled digital vacancies, research published today has suggested, prompting experts to call on employers to prioritise in-house upskilling to plug the gap. 

The Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) Delivering Skills for the New Economy report found almost all (95 per cent) of businesses expected their digital skills needs would grow, and 58 per cent said they would need significantly more digital skills in the next five years, but only a third (31 per cent) were confident they would be able to access the skills they need. 

The report, produced in partnership with Tata Consultancy Services, warned that while technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation and biotechnology were fundamentally altering the nature of work, skills were failing to keep pace. 

It stated: “Having the right skills to enable businesses and their employees to adapt to their changing roles and upskill for entirely new kinds of jobs will be crucial to the success of the UK economy.”

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said digital skills were “absolutely fundamental to getting people ready for the future of work”.

“It’s essential we tackle the UK’s digital skills crunch now to remain internationally competitive.” he said. “Firms are sounding the alarm in their struggle for digital skills and the uncertainty that brings. There’s a clear need for businesses to diversify their hiring strategies and look for innovative ways to help their people improve their digital skills.”

Of the 250 businesses surveyed, one-third (31 per cent) categorised cyber and IT security – including being able to spot phishing emails or being aware of GDPR – as basic skills that employees needed to keep their business secure. 

“It’s important that no-one is left behind as our workplaces change and that everyone has the skills to benefit from the new economy,’ Fell added. 

The report said businesses that hadn’t already done so needed to create a long-term digital vision setting out what technology they want to achieve and what digital skills they would need to get there.

It also said organisations needed to make digital skills a “company-wide” issue, and suggested they collaborate externally with suppliers, local SMEs and educational providers. It added businesses could access “untapped skills” within its workforce through retraining, and suggested offering apprenticeships as a “route into digital roles”. 

Of the businesses polled, three-quarters (75 per cent) were already investing in training on digital technologies, 30 per cent were organising external short courses and 33 per cent were collaborating or partnering with small businesses, suppliers or contractors to bring in the skills they needed.

However, the report’s authors urged employers look to develop in-house talent pipelines by engaging with education providers to create courses for their current workforce, warning that organisations risked “fishing in the same pool” when looking to hire external talent. The survey found only a quarter (25 per cent) of businesses were already building internal talent pipelines in this way.  

Shankar Narayanan, UK and Ireland vice president for Tata Consultancy Services, said: “This new research makes it clear that for the UK economy to remain competitive into the future, it’s important to ensure its workforce continually see the value in building the necessary skills for a career in technology.

“This doesn’t just mean training those already in the technology space. In fact, it means looking at the other talents within a business and knowing how to capture these skills and enhance them with more technology knowledge and literacy.”

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