How the changing digital landscape is an opportunity for employers

Digital skills
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Jane Dickinson is Digital Skills Lead at The Open University and a key contributor to the Bridging the Digital Divide report.

There is no denying the radical impact that digital technologies have had upon society over the past few decades; entire industries have been transformed. 

The introduction of the Internet has led to new products and services, operations in some fields have been radically overhauled and a new, hyper-competitive business environment has emerged, where innovation is prized and super-charged start-ups can take significant market share from even the most established and successful household names.

Digital innovations present opportunities to streamline processes, enhance productivity and significantly overhaul communications but it’s crucial that organisations are fully prepared to take advantage of them. Without the skills and agility to seize opportunities, employers could find that they start to threaten their organisation when it comes to productivity and competitiveness.

The Digital Challenge

In order to remain efficient in the face of digital innovation, job functions and skills will have to change. The Open University’s Bridging the Digital Divide report suggests that up to 12 million jobs across the UK could be affected in the next five years as more organisations become digital-first. While many employers will attempt to fill new roles with existing staff whose roles are at risk, most will need to invest in training to provide the skills required.

The digital skills most lacking in UK organisations currently are cyber security, integrating new technologies and the development and management of cloud-computing services and digital infrastructure. But with the rapid pace of technological development, many employers are struggling to keep up as well as forecast which skills they will require now and in the future.

As a result, many organisations will have a digital skills shortage and will be ill placed to take advantage of the remarkable opportunities digital developments represent.

The Sustainable Solution

Given that the digital landscape will continue to shift in the years to come, organisations need to ensure that any training they offer will deliver sustainable results, addressing specific skills shortages now, and ensuring that employees are able to adapt and apply their skills to opportunities in future. It is essential, therefore, that workers gain an understanding of how those skills fit within the context of their organisation and other aspects of IT.

Providing higher-level skills training can play a pivotal role here. Arming a workforce with the abilities to apply top-level IT solutions in a real world environment can elevate an organisation’s agility to the next level. Programs such as the Digital and Technical Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship mean that organisations can do just this. 

They also don’t have to wait until employees complete their qualifications to see the benefits. The employer-led standards, which combine on and off-the-job learning and development, ensure that apprentices can start applying their new knowledge and skills to their workplace right from the start - so organisations can improve the skills of their workforce, bring in new talent and start to see return on their investment quickly.

By taking the time to pinpoint knowledge gaps and investing in the appropriate learning structures, employers can develop a resilient, flexible and adaptable workforce that is better prepared to handle new developments. 

Overall, 85 per cent of senior business leaders agree that it will become necessary to move to a model of lifelong learning in the future - and those who are already investing in this type of training are reaping the associated benefits of increased productivity and better employee engagement.

The importance of work-based learning

Although it may be virtually impossible to predict what the UK’s industries will look like in ten, twenty, or fifty years time, it is essential that both employers and employees act now to establish a culture of work-based learning that could help them to be better prepared to seize opportunities and overcome challenges.

The changing digital landscape may well be daunting for employers and employees alike. However, with the right training and development, and by embracing lifelong learning, both have the opportunity to keep up with changing tech, diversify their skills and areas of expertise, future-proofing their lines of work for years to come.


Jane Dickinson is Digital Skills Lead at The Open University and a key contributor to the Bridging the Digital Divide report.

Jane Dickinson
Jane Dickinson is Digital Skills Lead at The Open University and a key contributor to the Bridging the Digital Divide report.