digital skills
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New innovations are being developed at lightning speeds to drive faster growth and efficiency for businesses and society but there is a lack of digital skills

An absence of some of the skills needed to drive such technologies forward has led to business strain and a race between education and technology. Consider this: the digital skills gap could cost the UK £141 billion in GDP growth, according to Accenture.

With a recent LinkedIn report finding that four of 2018’s top five emerging jobs were in the developing and machine learning space, technical skills such as cryptocurrency, Software as a Service and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming priceless on a CV. Yet many people – young and old – don’t possess digital literacy skills, making it difficult to fill the roles and to train current employees.

There are hundreds of skills that experts have stressed that SMEs and large organisations need to consider to remain competitive, so it’s no surprise that businesses find it overwhelming. But which industries will need to crack down in 2019? What sectors might be surprised to find themselves in need of digital training? And what can they do to combat the multi-million-pound problem? Lee Johnson, Chief Technology Officer at Air IT, explains his top predictions for the digital skills gap in 2019.

Farmer’s digital dreams

A staggering 89% of Scottish farmers said that they believe recruiting tech-competent staff is key to making the UK agriculture industry more competitive on a global scale. However the study, by the National Farm Research Unit, also found that 57% of those surveyed think that emerging technology will greatly impact their business in the next five years.

Skills maintenance in the ever-changing digital landscape is challenging to keep up with, even for the most technically advanced. But farmers especially, who don’t use ICT daily but need it to boost productivity, will require support on their quest to adapt. In 2019, they will take advantage of new tools, managed services and will actively learn new skill sets to use new technologies such as soil sensors and drones.

The insurance problem

This year, a global survey identified that insurers are increasingly unable to find the right staff, with just 25% prepared to use AI. The survey also found that just 4% of insurers planned to increase their investment in reskilling programmes.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), insurers can now use data to gain better insights on individual behaviour and choices rather than base rates on a general “profile” which isn’t always accurate. For example, in car insurance, insurers can tailor rates and personalise offers based on actual driving behaviours, such as speed and braking, improving customer satisfaction and not just slotting them into a box.

Other benefits of AI include detecting fraudulent cases more easily, capturing traits that the human eye wouldn’t see. Insurers must invest in their people and their learning – employees using AI systems who aren’t properly trained can easily stumble across problems, ultimately causing delays.

By not investing, insurers will likely find themselves in a very uncomfortable position – after all, nobody in 2019 wants to be defeated by technology. If they choose not to invest, they will find it hard to get new customers, and the 4% will lead the way.

Staying ahead of the cloud curve

The cloud offers businesses major opportunities and breaks down boundaries we didn’t even realise we were facing, changing consumer behaviour and enterprise forever. However, the skills shortage and lack of talent could reduce the cloud’s “transformation” efforts. How will this be combatted? Managed service providers will come to the rescue.

OpsRamp’s Cloud Skills Survey found that in total, 77% of its respondents are partnering with managed service providers to transform their processes and meet the consumer demands that they would otherwise not have been able to do. We will see the shift to a hybrid model, where specialised workloads are shifted to managed service providers who will fill the gap by covering their business technology and cloud needs, while employers re-skill and upskill internal teams for business-critical services.

Recruiters will shift focus

According to statistics by The Open University, the majority of SMEs (94%) are struggling to find workers with the right skills, and actually, think that the skills gap is getting worse. This can lead to inflated salaries, temporary workers and overstretched workforces, the latter of which causes poor morale, low productivity and exhaustion.

Looking forward into the shifting business environment, recruiters will take the lead and seem increasingly more appealing in 2019, with specialised digital headhunters supporting the gulf between the employee and the talent. This will not just affect businesses in need of bringing technology into their businesses, but also those which have technology as core to their business model.

Managed service providers and operators, for example, also need to be conscious of the deficit, and will increase their headhunting efforts. This will ensure that they can maintain authority as specialists, boost their customer offering and continue to be a popular outsource opportunity for businesses struggling to meet demands.

Displacement, not replacement

Change is outpacing the provision of professionals in sectors such as AI, leading to a mass outcry that we are all going to lose our jobs to robots. This is simply not true – in 2019 we will see more of a displacement of traditional, low skilled jobs, replaced with the creation of digital jobs. PwC has reported that around seven million jobs in the UK in sectors such as manufacturing and transport could be displaced by AI by 2037, but 7.2 million will be created – a net growth of 200,000.

Hackathons and social media in schools

Hackathons, where a group of people with different specialist skills come together and solve a problem, are a great way to upskill and learn new talents. 2018 was the year that hackathons started to be rolled out in schools across the UK to build the next generation of tech experts, bringing in those that are already digitally savvy to offer their expertise to young people. This will continue in 2019 with a mainstream pick-up, mainstream rolls out to enable kids to get the taste of a tech project from a young age.

Digital literacy is important – there’s a reason that no day goes by without a mention of it in the press. A boost in skill set can only benefit the UK’s long-term economic gain and help to promote our knowledge as a nation, especially with the looming uncertainty of Brexit. Like any gap in the market, the digital skills gap is an opportunity, not just for farmers and insurers but for all marketers, teachers and manufacturers, to attack the competition and get ahead of the curve.


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