Why 60% of UK workers do not want to learn new digital skills

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett December 4, 2023
Summary:
Lloyds Bank’s 2023 Consumer Digital Index reveals that 7.5 million (18%) people do not have the required digital skills for the workplace.

Female hand points at technology concept image showing skills increasing on a dial © putilich via Canva.com

Millions of people across the UK are still lacking essential digital skills needed for the workplace, while 60% of UK workers have no interest in upskilling their current level of digital capability.

The findings come from the 2023 Consumer Digital Index, the eighth annual report from Lloyds Bank into the digital and financial lives of the UK population.

There is some positive news in the report. 33 million (82%) of the UK labor force now have Work Essential Digital Skills (EDS), up from 78% in 2022. And four in 10 UK workers are considering upskilling in at least one area of digital, with data analysis and productivity software skills the most popular areas for learning.

However, there are still 7.5 million (18%) people who do not have the required digital skills for the workplace. What’s more worrying is that 24 million people (60%) are not at all interested in upskilling for the future. 

This lack of appetite raises concerns for organisations that could benefit from a more digitally skilled workforce. Across the entire UK workforce, only 12% of people are considering learning cyber security skills, or programming and software development skills like coding and application development.

This drops to 9% for developing new skills in client and finance management systems like QuickBooks, Salesforce or SAP, or digital design tools like Adobe Photoshop and InDesign; and just 5% for machining and manufacturing technology like computer-aided design software and engineering.

At the report launch event, Rob Benson, Project Manager - Digital Inclusion, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, said the fact that 24 million people aren’t interested and aren’t looking to upskill is really concerning. He added:

As we're seeing the movement within the labor market to more digital technologies, AI and automation, people are going to need more advanced level digital skills.

To tackle this, organizations need to work with national governments and education services to prmote digital skills learning and offer more training provision. Benson pointed to the Department of Education offering Skills Bootcamps and looking at how Liverpool City Region Combined Authority can focus in on that. 

Meeting your target audience on their level and through their medium of choice could also entice more people to learn new digital skills. Jan Levy, Managing Director of Three Hands, said the organization hears a lot from younger people who want to learn from a YouTube video or on TikTok. He added:

These resources need to be made available. If somebody's connected enough to be on YouTube but not connected or savvy enough to do other things, that is a way of learning that people are calling for.

But the learning needs to be continual and not just one-off sessions. Benson said:

It's getting people to understand that it is an evolving journey and that is across not just skills in the labor market but also for digital overall. It's something that evolves and needs to adapt to new technology, as we migrate onto new platforms and services and need to have the support to enable people alongside that change.

Gaps

As well as highlighting the need for more focus on developing workplace digital skills, the report revealed some huge gaps in capability across the UK population in general, especially among older generations.  

While 96% (50 million) of the UK population is online – defined as having used the internet in the last three months – this is actually down from 2022 when 99% were online. A quarter of the UK have the lowest digital capability, and of these 13 million people, 70% of them are 60 years and over. 

To encourage more older people to go online, and give them the required trust, confidence and skills, training and support has to be learner-led and person-centered. Sarah Parkes, Program Manager, Age UK, said:

First of all, we have to think about the reason somebody is seeking support. Is it that their local pharmacy has changed to online prescriptions and they are quickly needing to get medication? Or is it that they're feeling a little frustrated about things moving online and they're wanting to learn more generally to try and help maintain some of their independence? That will vary how support is pitched and delivered.

It will also vary depending on whether the person is starting from scratch and have never turned on a device; or they may have basic skills, for example from using Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends, but lack the more advanced skills such as online banking. 

Group support and peer to peer learning will be ideal in some scenarios, as people also benefit from the social interaction that comes with that; for others, especially if it's an area like online banking, a group setting could be too daunting, so home visits would be more appropriate. Parkes explained:

You really need to completely understand not just the general population or the age group, but the individual you are supporting and make sure that the service has the flexibility to adapt to what it is that they need for it to remain accessible and relevant to them.

Lacking

Overall, the report highlights that while there has been some progress in building digital skills across the UK, there are still millions of people who are lacking in the required skills to carry out basic online tasks. Benson said:

The message to businesses, to organizations that are going through lots of business transformation and moving lots more services online, is that there needs to be the offline option, there needs to be some form of safety net for those individuals that don't have it. Digital first is great, but we need to be able to make sure that those services are there to support those that are more marginalized, to make sure that they aren't falling further behind.

This is an approach that Citizens Advice is very much following. Thomas Monaghan, Corporate Partnerships Lead for Citizens Advice, noted how pre-pandemic, the majority of interactions with its users were face to face. Then Covid came, and staff were told to get their laptops and work from home. Monaghan said:

That was a big panic because how do you help someone navigate the benefits system, get their benefits remotely, it is an absolute nightmare, how do you help someone step by step through that Universal Credit journal.

Citizens Advice recognized that the most vulnerable communities, the people who were completely digitally excluded and didn't know how to use the internet, still needed that in-person provision. Monaghan explained:

We had to open some bureaus where you could go and get that face-to-face support. It was those who tended to be older, who had disabilities, there was a big need.

Post-pandemic, there has been a shift: some people will now happily talk to Citizens Advice about their finances over the phone; others still won’t. Monaghan added:

The data shows we need to do both. We can't fully go digital.


Similarly at Age UK, the organization is providing support remotely and face to face, and will continue to do so. Parkes said:

In the older population, there are people who are never going to be inclined or even able to get online. Face-to-face by far is the preference. During COVID, we had digital champions in people's gardens teaching through windows because the remote element adds complexity that's just not needed in an already complex situation. Being fully digital I don’t think is ever going to be a situation that we’re in.
 

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