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June 14, 2024updated 20 Jun 2024 9:26am

UK skills gap sees it trail most of Europe in tech proficiency, report finds

Findings highlight extent to which UK lags behind a number of rival economies, despite public and private sector efforts to close tech skills gap.

By Tech Monitor Staff

The scale of the UK skills gap sees it lagging behind a number of its regional and global peers in tech skills proficiency, a new study has found. Coursea’s sixth annual Global Skills Report ranks the UK 25th on the continent – and a lowly 45th globally – for aggregated performance across business, technology, and data science domains.

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93% of UK medium- and large-sized businesses reported struggling to fill vacant tech roles. (Photo by Boumen Japet/Shutterstock)

Switzerland emerged as the global skills leader. Japan placed second, with Germany, Netherlands, France, Sweden, Spain, Austria, Denmark, and Belgium rounding up the rest of a European-dominated top ten. Europe accounted for 19 of the top 25 countries.    

Within the anglosphere, the UK could take some solace in at least being ahead of the US, ranked all the way back in 69th. New Zealand (40th), Australia (55th), and Canada (59th) also failed to trouble the upper echelons of the league table. In fact, the 2024 report marks something of an improvement in fortunes for the UK, which placed 64th in the 2023 iteration.

Coursera’s 2024 Global Skills Report analyses data from over 148 million of its online learners, combined with other indicators such as the Global Innovation Index, labour force participation, human capital index and GDP per capita.

The huge spike in GenAI skills demand

One significant trend highlighted by the report was the incredible rise in enrolments onto generative AI-related courses. While the UK saw 961% year-on-year surge in such levels, this actually fell below the global average, which stood at a staggering 1,060%.

The United Kingdom is over-indexing in skills like bioinformatics, machine learning algorithms and applied machine learning, the report found, reflecting the anticipated 38% net growth in demand for AI and ML specialists in the country.

The significant increase in GenAI course enrolments and the popularity of roles such as data analyst, software developer, and cybersecurity analyst were cause for some optimism. However, with 93% of UK businesses reporting an IT skills gap, its country profile concluded, there’s an urgent need for targeted upskilling initiatives to ensure the workforce can meet the evolving demands of the digital economy.    

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Coursera revealed that the global gender gap across its online learning platforms was narrowing, but regional disparities persist. The share of women stood at 46%, up from 43% last year.

The gender gap was smallest in North America and Europe, standing at just 5%. Asia-Pacific stood at 7%, with The Philippines and Thailand actually recording parity The largest disparity was in MENA at 13%.

UK must close the skills gap at speed

While 50% of the methodology used by Coursera draws from usage of its own platforms, the findings do reflect wider fears surrounding a growing UK skills gap. Last year, 93% of 500 businesses surveyed by Forbes Skills Advisor reported report being unable to adequately fill vacant IT positions with requisite talent. 42% said the speed of technological development was only exacerbating the challenge. Indeed, a survey of 1000 UK firms by the Institute for the Future of Work revealed that the adoption of AI and automation technologies was significantly expanding the skill sets expected from current workers.  

Government initiatives have been introduced in an effort to close the gap, but, in the eyes of many critics, not with a scale of ambition or investment adequate to properly address the issue. In March, for example, the UK committed £1.1 billion to upskilling the workforce in emerging technologies. Labour has also made upskilling and industry-specific training a cornerstone of its election manifesto.

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