What Is the Digital Skills Gap and How Can We Bridge It?

Did you know that at least 82% of online job vacancies in the UK require digital skills? And that the UK skills shortage is costing organisations £6.3 billion? Yep – you read that right. The digital skills gap is affecting workers at every skill level in pretty much every industry and job role you could imagine – and it’s probably affecting you, too.

So what actually is the ‘digital skills gap’ and why does it exist? And, most importantly, how can we upskill ourselves and our workforces to start bridging the gap?

What is the digital skills gap?

The digital skills gap refers to the difference between the number of employees with the necessary digital skills and the number required for businesses to grow. The digital skills gap in the UK is growing rapidly, with demand for digital skills vastly exceeding the existing skillset among UK workers. It also has an economic impact, with a study by the Open University finding the skills shortage to be costing organisations £6.3 billion and another study by Microsoft revealing it could significantly hamper economic recovery following the pandemic.


Like with most areas of our lives, the pandemic has of course played its part in the digital skills gap. The need for ‘hybrid skilled’ workers who possess both technical and soft skills, and ‘anywhere workforces’ in which employees can work remotely, has increased. Hybrid workforces (where some employees work remotely and others at the office) are now seen as a permanent part of the employment landscape by 89% of UK employers, according to a 2021 report by Robert Half. The same report suggests job advertisements are requesting more people-focused skills for technical roles and, conversely, more technical and data-handling abilities for administrative and marketing jobs. For example, there’s been a 82% increase in demand for general office clerks with business process skills, a 71% rise in adverts for sales and marketing managers who can apply information security policies, and the demand for advertising and public relations managers with software configuration skills has more than tripled (+208%).

At least 82% of online job vacancies in the UK now require digital skills, and it’s not only high-skill jobs that demand them, with 77% of low-skill jobs now demanding digital skills, rising to 85% of middle-skill and 83% of high-skill roles. However, while having these baseline digital skills may be the ticket to enter these roles, they are just that: entry-level skills. Research by Learning and Work Institute found that 60% of businesses believe their reliance on advanced digital skills is set to increase over the next 5 years, so continually revisiting and developing your digital skills is essential to succeed and progress once you’re in a role, too.

And if you’re looking to enter the higher income brackets, this skills gap is definitely not something you should ignore. Overall, roles that require digital skills pay 29% more over roles that do not, and according to research by the UK government:

“It takes more than [entry-level skills] to take full advantage of the digital economy. Specific digital skills define career fields, and propel workers into roles that pay more, offer advancement, and are less vulnerable to being automated.”

Why does the digital skills gap exist?

Despite 82% of job vacancies requiring digital skills and over half of UK adults saying they’re indeed ready to learn new skills, research by PwC in 2019 found that UK workers are given the fewest opportunities to do so by employers, with 51% offered no opportunities at all. This lack of training offered by employers is just one of the many reasons the digital skills gap has become so prevalent in the UK, and why the importance of skills hubs like Digital Women has become so great.


Recent research by Learning and Work Institute has also found that the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has dropped 40% since 2015. Fewer than half of UK employers believe young people are leaving full-time education with sufficient advanced digital skills. Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann, the chief executive of WorldSkills UK, a charity focused on training young people in digital skills to help them enter the workforce, has identified 4 main reasons why the digital skills shortage is steadily climbing:

  1. A lack of clearly-defined job roles in certain fields

  2. A lack of understanding and guidance about potential career paths

  3. A lack of relatable role models

  4. A difficulty in making many technical professions seem appealing to young people, especially women

The digital skills gap also intertwines with other barriers that exist within the job market – particularly gender. Simply on a physical level, less women have access to technology than men; globally, the proportion of men using the internet in 2017 was 12% higher than women and there are 200 million fewer women than men who own a mobile phone, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). On a UK level, the gender gap in digital skills can be attributed to a lack of support and encouragement of girls pursuing digital subjects, a lack of role models in digital sectors and thus a difficulty in making these professions seem appealing to young women. An internal report by Hewlett Packard also found that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them, and research supports this reality of women working at a level below their competence due to social, structural or personal factors.


How can we bridge the digital skills gap?

Research from CBI reveals that businesses, governments and individuals need to increase spending on adult education by £130 billion by 2030 if they are to narrow the UK digital skills gap. Investing in encouraging young people, particularly girls, to embrace digital subjects and providing guidance about potential career paths in digital is equally as important. Ultimately, it’s the collective responsibility of the government, organisations and individuals to work towards bridging the digital skills gap and helping the UK job market to recover in the wake of the pandemic. Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert Half UK, says:

“From a skills evolution and demand perspective, COVID-19 can be seen as the ultimate disrupter and accelerator. With one recent report estimating that 21 million UK workers will need basic digital skills and 14 million enhanced interpersonal and advanced communications skills by 2030, the time to take constructive steps in developing hybrid skills is now – particularly for those companies eager to the more resilient, adaptable, and agile workforces needed for their pandemic recovery efforts.”

Aside from investment and funding from the government and businesses, there are resources out there for individuals to begin upskilling in digital, too. If you’re serious about progressing in your career and ensuring job security, upskilling in digital is essential. The first step is acknowledging that you need to learn new skills and to commit to lifelong learning as and when the demand for new digital skills arises. Then, you can identify the specific areas you need to upskill in. Skill-sharing communities like Digital Women can help you do this and are the perfect way to access a huge range of digital skills and develop your knowledge in a supportive, empowering and growth-focused environment. Digital Women also offers a range of CPD-accredited courses, digital skills lessons and more upskilling resources in its members’ area.


If you’d like more information on how Digital Women is helping to bridge the digital skills gap, and how it could help you, get in touch with us here!

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