Baroness Martha Lane Fox CBE: Overcoming our digital skills deficit

The co-founder of lastminute.com on equipping ourselves for the future

Read Securing Britain’s Growth online now:
London business leaders tackle boosting enterprise, nurturing talent, growing exports, driving digital and securing growth in key industry sectors

We have had quite a lot of digital success in this country: we’ve got fantastic energy around start-ups and some extraordinary emerging technology clusters. But we are desperately short on digital skills, and that issue doesn’t get much action in public and political spheres.

A robust economy will have technology at its heart, so we need people equipped with digital skills. This country is going to need one million ICT jobs by 2020.

At the moment we can’t even fill our existing ICT jobs, let alone the next million. There are 11 million adults in this country who don’t have basic digital skills, such as sending an email, being safe online and transacting online. A large number of those people are out of work, too.

But if you don’t have basic digital skills, how can you search and apply for jobs online, or format your CV, and so on?

We need a big shift in culture to address our digital skills shortfalls. The government is doing a number of things. There will a big change in September when coding will be mandated in schools.That’s a very big step forward. We won’t see an immediate impact, but it will be very significant over the long term.

Yet we still face the issue of adults’ digital skills today. The government could give more funding to programmes that teach people how to use technology. There are lots of programmes already offering this training and aiming to give British adults better digital skills. It is what we’re trying to do at Go ON UK.

Keeping pace

It is not complicated to encourage people to take up training. People have lots of contact with local government. You could offer them the training at Job Centres, for example. The government just needs to take this issue seriously and fund it. We must skill-up the British workforce.

The issue of digital skills is also about the British corporate sector equipping themselves for the future and understanding technology today. Only four FTSE 100 companies have any kind of digital executive on their boards. Businesses will not survive if they don’t put digital at the heart of everything they do.

They must invest in this area, whatever industry they operate in. Whatever you are selling, whether you’re in pharmaceuticals or construction, you need to be adaptive and flexible and able to move in this changing economy.

Technology is moving at an incredibly rapid pace. Remember that Facebook is only 10 years old, and Google only almost 16. The smartphone didn’t even exist when Facebook was founded.

The web has not answered every single problem, but there is no denying that technology is impacting every aspect of the way we work. If executives are not aware of that pace of change, they will lose out.

So what can businesses do? Get help. Get smart, brilliant people on your board who really understand technology. Visit some of the amazing tech incubators around the country. Work with start-ups. Have a digital champion inside your organisation, whatever it does and whatever size it is.

Once you have someone championing technology inside your organisation, make sure the culture of embracing technology is moved throughout the whole organisation and that you are working to equip your staff with digital skills.

Just do something to get involved in the incredible pace of change.

Baroness Martha Lane Fox CBE is the chair of Go ON UK and co-founder of lastminute.com

Read Securing Britain’s Growth online now:
London business leaders tackle boosting enterprise, nurturing talent, growing exports, driving digital and securing growth in key industry sectors

Our securing Britain series:

SECURING BRITAIN’S TALENT

SECURING BRITAIN’S FUTURE

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