Are skills key to the UK exploiting the digital revolution?

Digital represents an enormous opportunity for the economy

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British companies need to quickly put in place the right business strategies and hire the right skillsets to capitalise on the digital revolution, according to Rachel Barton, Managing Director in Accenture's Strategy practice. We spoke to her in greater depth on this topic, including discussing where the digital skills gap lies in the UK, and what the government can do, among other pertinent issues.

TechRadar Pro: How important is digital to the UK economy?

Rachel Barton: The rapid digitisation of the economy represents an enormous, possibly once in a generation growth opportunity for British businesses, providing they can quickly put in place the right business strategies and hire the right skillsets to make it happen.

TRP: What is your definition of digital?

RB: Digital has been defined in many ways, but fundamentally it is an interaction between machine and machine, or machine and human, to share information to drive an outcome. This encompasses far more than just a website or an app. It is a profound change in the way organisations and humans operate. Digital has been likened to the Industrial Revolution in terms of its impact on society and business.

TRP: Are organisations capitalising on this digital revolution?

RB: Currently, many organisations are struggling to fully capitalise on the digital opportunity. This is partly because they don't have the right skills in place or are unsure how to extract value from them. Some are simply not far enough along their own digital journey to attract the right talent where it exists.

TRP: Where do you see the main digital skills gap in the UK?

RB: I recently participated as an expert panellist in the MCA's Annual Debate: Our Digital Future. As part of the debate, and to launch its Year of Digital, the MCA surveyed Britain's boardrooms and uncovered concerns about the digital skills gap in the UK.

For instance, many businesses believe graduates simply don't have the required digital skills. While 94% of senior executives view digital as important or very important to their businesses, 20% feel that graduates' grasp of digital is average to poor.

TRP: How do businesses ensure that the latest generation entering the workforce apply their digital experiences and knowledge to a business setting?

RB: The starting point is to create a sense of excitement around the digitisation of business. Also, the value of digital skills should be clearly communicated to the employment market. This means offering attractive financial rewards to employees with these skills, and looking beyond the traditional means of assessment when it comes to recruitment.

Some of the more 'aware' businesses now rank digital skills and social media influence as being as important as academic achievement. There are now employers asking graduates for a Klout score of 60 in addition to standard qualifications.

Employment opportunities should be created that give these skilled workers a platform for innovation. They also need career paths where tenure is not considered a key measure of success. Indeed, digital natives are expected to have on average 20 jobs and five careers in their lifetime.

These changes require a fundamental shift in mind-set among business leaders. But that shift is necessary if the UK is to retain its digital talent, given the international competition for these skills.

TRP: Does government have a role to play?

RB: The government can play a key role in helping UK firms, and it has a vested interest in doing so. Exploiting digital will bring the country significant wealth – creating benefits at a time when there is much debate over steering the economy in the direction of balanced growth.

TRP: How can government help?

RB: The government is already playing its role by bringing digitisation to the delivery of public services. As government departments and agencies touch everyone's lives at some point they are a good way of helping digitisation permeate widely across society.