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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Making digital work: What’s the state of workforce digital skills?

Who are the people that we instantly think of when we picture someone without the essential digital skills they need, and at risk of being left behind?  

For many, the first image that will come to mind is of an older retiree – someone whose working life wasn’t dominated by technology and who didn’t adopt digital as a result of their environment. While age continues to be the strongest overall determinant of digital exclusion, there is a concerning picture emerging among the UK’s workforce.  

Lloyds Banking Group, in partnership with FutureDotNow, have released ‘UK Essential Digital Skills for Work’ – an action focussed report looking at the digital skills levels of the UK’s working-age population. Let’s dig a little deeper into it. 

What are the headline numbers? 

Starkly, a majority of UK workers don’t have all the skills they need for work. 59% (23.4 million) of people can only complete some of the tasks required to meet the Essential Digital Skills for Work, meaning there are key gaps in knowledge and capability across sectors.  

8% (which is around 3.2 million people) can’t do any of the tasks, and some 12% lack the foundation skills – the crucial skills a person needs to even access the digital space – meaning they are at risk of being locked out of a rapidly digitising workforce.  

However, it’s not all bad. 41% (16.8 million) have all the skills they need, and of the 59% that have some of the skills, 27% (10.9 million) are on the cusp. This means they can complete 17-19 of the 20 Essential Digital Skills for Work tasks and are almost there. 

What are our workers missing? 

Our national workforce isn’t where it needs to be. The key thing to remember about the 59% who only have some of the skills they need is that we measure Essential Digital Skills by tasks – so workers could be missing competency in most of the tasks in any of the five skills categories that we use.  

The report delves into some of those key tasks that are missing among the workforce. Missing skills appear to be most evident in transacting. Transacting skills seem to be a significant knowledge gap – 27% of workers are unable to access salary and tax information digitally. (What’s really interesting is that this skill gap becomes more evident among workers that are able to complete more tasks than others). 

A common struggle across those without all the skills they need relates to productivity tools such as Trello, Microsoft Planner, and Slack. 35% of people are unable to use these tools to improve their efficiency and processes at work. Data from organisations that we’ve worked with at SCVO supports this as well – problem solving skills (particularly productivity tools) are an issue.  

One of the most interesting aspects of the report is its demonstration of skills depth. Taking a broader view of the percentage of skills attained by workers gives a good general overview, but understanding the depth (how many tasks within each skill workers are capable of) provides an opportunity to see how and where support can be strengthened.  

Problem solving and staying safe and legal online are two areas where there are demonstrable gaps (28%) between those who can complete all the tasks and those who can complete some of the tasks. The obvious issue with this is that online safety is a crucial skill which depends on good practice and understanding. This means that a large proportion of the UK’s workers are leaving themselves and their organisations vulnerable to online harm.  

Lloyds outlines the top ten workforce skills the population are missing in the report.  

Where does Scotland sit within this? 

Scotland has some work to do when it comes to workforce skills. Of all the regions of the UK, we currently have the fourth highest proportion of people with all the skills needed for work – as well as fourth among regions for having some of those skills as well. 

The good news is we have a lower proportion than five other regions for those that have none of the skills they need. However, as technologies advance it will be important for Scotland’s economy to ensure that number shrinks year-on-year.  

The data also demonstrates that smaller organisations are trailing behind on skills capabilities. Only 38% of those in a small-to-medium organisations in the UK have all the skills they need. In Scotland, most businesses are SMEs, meaning that we have some important work to do cross-sector to challenge the skills gap. This is particularly pertinent in Scotland’s voluntary sector, where a majority of charities that employ staff have less than 50.  

What else does the report tell us?  

The data in this report is fascinating and offers insights into workforce skills that can help us more effectively plan ahead and target those that need support. For example, our so-called ‘digital natives’ (a phrase we try to avoid) aren’t as prepared for the digital workplace as we might have imagined. 25-34 year olds are more digitally advanced than 18-24 year olds, suggesting that workplace experience is important for upskilling.  

The report also reveals that industry is the greatest determinant of whether people have the digital skills for work they need or not. Although age is still the greatest determinant of overall digital exclusion, Lloyds finds that workers in the construction industry are at the greatest risk of being left behind with skills.  

There is also a worrying view that we are reaching a tipping point into a greater socio-economic divide. Key groups for a diverse workplace (those without formal qualifications, living with an impairment or from lower socio-economic backgrounds) are facing the disadvantage of trying to break into digitised workplaces without the key skills they need. This is doubly difficult for unemployed people, 20% of whom are not able to complete any of the tasks.  

What can we do about it?  

The data can definitely make us feel a bit bleak – but the positives are still there. We have a quarter of the labour force who are almost at full capability. That’s testament to the work going in communities and organisations across the country.  

A lot of the responses that are needed lie in policy intervention. Reaching people from diverse backgrounds, people who are unemployed and building capacity for SMEs to invest in upskilling will require impetus and creativity from central government. For example, if young people aged 18-24 aren’t as digitally competent as people aged 25-34, then education policy needs to be reconfigured.  

We as organisations can use this opportunity to develop our own plans. The first step is understanding where your organisation is on its own journey. Did you know that you can use the Essential Digital Skills for Work Checkup, hosted by SCVO? This can help you understand where to start with upskilling.  

You can also have a chat with us about implementing digital upskilling programmes in your organisation.   

It’s time that we recognised how crucial digital skills are in every aspect of our lives. Until they have equal status with literacy and numeracy, we won’t be able to reap the rewards of the digital economy. 

Last modified on 13 March 2023