Ramkumar Chandraeskaran: Closing the digital skills gap, why UK firms must be more proactive to remain competitive

If we were fisherman casting our hooks in the same water, it’s likely we’d always catch very similar types of fish, or there wouldn’t be enough fish. We’d be frustrated by the lack of variety or depleted stock and eventually question why we’re searching in the same place as our competitors.

This challenge is also true for UK businesses searching for the best digital skills talent – according to the Delivering Skills for the New Economy Report by Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), almost half of companies continue to fish in the same pool for digital talent.

As a result, UK-based businesses are limiting themselves in the global market place. The report ranks the UK as 32nd in overall digital skills levels, behind markets such as Singapore, Finland and Sweden, which are rapidly accelerating the development of digital skills. Organisations in these markets are diversifying their approach to upskilling talent to equip companies and individuals with the mindset and skills for the future economy.

Without this variety of talent and investment in the UK, we won’t be able to keep up with global competition. The best way forward is to establish a proactive and diverse pipeline to address our digital skills needs and we need to act now.

With this in mind, how can we find more ponds with different fish, to fish in?

Providing internal programmes and resources

Digital skills needs are expected to sky rocket in the coming years. According to the report from CBI and TCS, most smaller businesses (69 per cent) have reported that their digital skills needs are likely to be most acute over the next year or two, whilst 79 per cent of medium sized businesses and 60 per cent of larger businesses indicated their needs would be most pronounced over the next three to five years. With this timescale in mind, businesses have an urgent responsibility to encourage current employees to learn these new skills and create a stronger pipeline of talent.

Many companies are aware of the importance of providing regular training, with the majority looking to conduct more training over the next 12 months than they did in the previous year.

Finding new resources through collaborating with external partners

Closing the skills gap is too large of a job for a business to face individually; it must be a collaborative effort. By drawing on expertise from the supply chain, local businesses, Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and perhaps even competitors, companies gain access to a wider variety of skills which their employees can learn from.

A good example is Sellafield, a nuclear power company, which works with IT partners to create a modern agile Digital Innovation Suite for people across the business to collaborate on different digital projects and upskill. They also partner with digital solutions suppliers who help provide knowledge, training and experience for Sellafield’s staff. With this collaboration Sellafield is experiencing a cultural change and processes are becoming more efficient.

Inspiring the next generation

In order to maintain the success of your company and more widely preserve a stable and thriving economy in the UK, investing in the next generation is essential. We’re already experiencing the impact of fast-paced technological change on the economy, with digital transformation predicted to be worth more than £445 billion to the UK manufacturing sector alone. But all of this is dependent on having the next generation of digital talent to support it.

For example, Cardiff University runs a Data Science Academy in partnership with industry organisations, which allows artificial intelligence (AI) and data science to be taught alongside other disciplines. This means that regardless of what degree each student is undertaking – from history to politics to marketing – they’re exposed to digital skills training that will aid them in their future careers.

As part of taking a more proactive approach to closing the digital skills gap, as HR managers, we need to reach students at a younger age and provide a pathway for them to upskill while they’re at school. This will bring mutual benefits as it widens the talent pool for employers and increases employment opportunities for students. Young people who have at least four interactions with business at school are five times less likely to be unemployed, according to the report from CBI and TCS.

Looking ahead

The UK still has steps to take, but we’re making progress. Adapting to the digital economy and facing the digital skills gap is an ongoing challenge with businesses continuously innovating. This ambition to evolve should be embedded at every level of education. Businesses should use training and industry wide collaboration to help upskill anyone from young students through to their existing, non-digital workforce. Together we can forge a place for the UK as a world leader in the global digital race.





Ramkumar Chandrasekaran is HR director for TCS UK & Ireland and has worked at TCS since the year 2000. In his role he focuses on aligning HR strategy to the wider business goals and is responsible for end to end HR function for over 18,000 employees in the UK from 50 nationalities. Ramkumar’s focus as the HR director extends beyond the workforce to the community through overseeing huge initiatives to promote technology and digital skills among young students.