Salesforce has announced that it will donate more than £1.1 million in an education program to help close the digital skills gap in the UK. Based on a study of 2,000 adults, respondents ranked “digital skills” as the most important skill for the current and future (2030) workplace. However, in a separate survey of 1,000, digital skills are only ranked as the 7th most important skill in the 2030 workplace. Moreover, of higher importance were confidence, creativity and patience. The absence of digital skills is perhaps less concerning with such a focus on soft skills.
There is a gap in the lack of confidence in the workforce now. Only 24% are very confident in their digital skills today. While the younger generations are generally more confident, there is still a shortfall in the education system. The research highlights a growing skills crisis in the UK and the urgent need for government and business action to address the UK’s digital skills gap.
Not only is the next generation of workers not equipped for modern business, but many also do not see computer science as a future career. It is the 5th most popular dream job among the male population but outside the top 10 for females. The indication is that females still see engineering and science as lower priority.
Zahra Bahrololoumi, the CEO of Salesforce UKI, commented, “The UK is facing a digital skills crisis, compromising its status as one of the world’s most important science and technology hubs. It is especially worrying that today’s school children don’t yet recognise digital skills as a priority for their future career. We are failing the next generation and must educate both parents and children urgently on the importance of digital skills across the board.”
Digital skills are critical now and in the future
Things are changing, though. There are some interesting changes in the perceived skills required. For the current work environment, the top three skills are:
- Digital Skills (42%)
- Communication (42%)
- Problem-solving (39%)
In 2030, communication (30% drops to seventh on the list, and Green skills (i.e., skills that make it easier for companies to behave in sustainable or environmentally-friendly ways) climbed up to second from eleventh. The percentage also more than doubles from 16% to 33%. The top three skills for 2030 are:
- Digital Skills (45%)
- Problem solving (34%)
- Green skills (33%)
The rapid growth in green skills is noteworthy, and perhaps indicates that organisations will have the skills to adopt stronger sustainability strategies in the future. While current workers also want their companies to provide digital skills training, with opportunities for training ranking as the second biggest benefits firms can offer, it is in the education system where changes need to happen. The research on the younger generation showed that many are not learning the new skills required within the current education system. Around a third want to learn but have not learnt skills such as coding (34%), cybersecurity (35%) and programming, web and app development (31%). Only data analytics seems well taught.
What must be done
Salesforce calls upon UK businesses and the government to establish a national online digital skills platform. This should bring together the perhaps disjointed programmes from industry, training providers and educational institutions, enabling people to access the training they need. This is a huge challenge, and Salesforce has given little indication of how they can do this.
Trailhead, a huge and free training resource that provides skills development for the Salesforce ecosystem, is just one resource that individuals can access. It is a superb learning platform and has provided a path to digital work that many seek. The platform has already digitally upskilled over 5 million people.
Bahrololoumi commented, “In the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor rightly identified digital technology as one of the UK’s five growth industries and pledged to make the UK ‘the world’s next Silicon Valley’. But to realise this vision we need to fix the digital skills gap.
“We are urging the government to establish a national online digital skills platform to make it easier for people to find and access the training they need. The government is uniquely placed to do this, and at scale with the backing of business. A failure to invest will act as a brake on our growth and ambitions for the UK to be a leading destination for investment and technological innovation.
“The digital skills gap is one of the biggest challenges the UK is facing right now. The research carried out by Salesforce shows that people are ready and willing to gain new digital skills that will fulfil their professional and personal growth, however, they are lacking the resources to do it.”
Salesforce has also put its money alongside the words, challenging the government to follow up. It is donating $750,000 to ARK (Absolute Return on Kids) and $650,000 to the Big Education Trust in 2023. This follows investments of $1.75 million in 2021 and before.
The ARK donation will help create and implement a new extended curriculum to address students’ well-being, work readiness, and life skills. The Big Education Trust donation will help design and pilot a curriculum that develops the whole child across the head (academics), heart (socioemotional) and hand (creativity) within 10 schools in the top 25% deprived areas.
Enterprise Times: What does this mean
The funding and initiatives are welcomed. Many more charitable organisations seek to improve children’s education both now and in the future. While the Salesforce funding is not directly tied to digital skills, it is an investment in an important area that needs greater understanding. Salesforce has already delivered Trailhead to the world, and now others need to step up. Without the right education for future generations of workers, the UK will likely fall behind in the digital race. Keeping a leadership position will help future governments with taxes on profits, as the costs of dealing with climate change mount. People are the natural resources of every nation, and the digital economy primarily depends on people rather than the natural resources that boosted the UK in the industrial revolution.
As Antony Walker, techUK Deputy CEO, comments, “To solve the gap, government, academia and industry need to work together to provide people with the tools they need to skill and re-skill. techUK applauds initiatives like Salesforce’s Trailhead online platform and we look forward to supporting their work through our digital skills arm, TechSkills, linking employers, academia and individuals to grow and support talent throughout their career.”
Will the three parties act together and deliver something, or will it just talk?