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UK ranks below Estonia for digital skills as shortage threatens economy

News: Lack of digital skills is posing a threat to security.

By James Nunns

The UK is at risk of failing to compete economically on the world stage due to a lack of digital skills.

Although the country has a thriving fintech sector and is considered to be one of the leading technology hubs in Europe and the world, there are several issues which need to be addressed.

According to the finding of the Barclays Digital Development Index, which benchmarks 10 countries around the world on their readiness to compete in the digital economy, the UK is suffering from a disconnect between policies to support digital engagement, and a lack of confidence in digital skills at an individual level among British workers.

These problems see the UK ranked fourth on a combined index of individual empowerment, and digital empowerment policy, behind Estonia, South Korea, and Sweden.

When it comes to individual empowerment the UK is in sixth place, lagging behind the likes of Brazil, China, India, South Africa and the USA, while on the digital empowerment policy index the UK is fourth with Estonia, South Korea, and Sweden ahead.

Ashok Vaswani, CEO, Barclays UK, said: “We urgently need to secure London and the UK as the world’s pre-eminent powerhouse of tech innovation as well as make sure that the UK has the digital skills and expertise to compete globally across all sectors and industries.

“At a time when the UK is considering its future outside the European Union, we have to remember that competing in the digital economy isn’t simply a European question, it’s about a global race that will define how prosperous and successful we are for decades to come.

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“With the referendum sending a clear message that too many parts of the UK do not feel they are sharing in the promise of global prosperity, now is the time to take everyone in society forward in the digital age.”

The findings are based on a survey of nearly 10,000 working adults combined with analysis of policy frameworks and support for the development of digital skills in each country.  

The UK performs well in areas of digital skills policy and advanced learning skills, however, these are offset by relatively low capability and confidence in digital skills on an individual level.

According to the report, a lack of skills is posing a security threat as only 13% of people in the UK use password-generating software to create hard-to-crack passwords, compared to 32% in China and 32% in India.

The report also found that only 41% of people in the UK change important passwords regularly, compared to 59% in India, and only 38% of people in the UK never save or store payment information on online accounts, compared to 58% in South Africa.

Although the UK ranks highly when it comes to digital policies, it comes seventh out of 10 in vocational and workplace skills, highlighting that clearly more needs to be done in the workplace to boost digital skills.

One of the knock-on effects of this is that the UK is near the bottom of the pack when it comes to coding skills and content creation.

Only 16% of people in the UK said that they would be very comfortable building a website, compared to 39% in Brazil and 37% in India, while just 11% of people in the UK would be very comfortable creating a mobile app or game, compared to 27% in Brazil and 33% in India.

Vaswani said: “In the last century, most of us had to cope with just one big shift in technology in our career or lifetime, and we’ve been able to rely on our early education to get us through. But, now these changes are happening constantly though the evolution of the internet, smartphones, social media, and the advent of new technologies like blockchain, virtual reality, AI and open data.

“This research shows Britons need to equip themselves with digital skills whether to future proof their career, or keep personal data and devices safe. Businesses also need to do much more to upskill each and every generation of their workforce; we need to create a new culture of lifelong learning.”

While constant technology changes may be happening and digital policy may be in place, there is a clear need for businesses to become more proactive in training staff and encouraging them to put their digital skills to use.

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