With advances in technology and automation predicted to put many people out of work, where does the responsibility for re-skilling the workforce lie?

Digital skills-tablet

Jane Dickinson, digital skills lead at The Open University, asks whether the UK is prepared for the tech revolution, and what employers can do to prepare the workforce

Technology is progressing at a rapid rate and understandably employers and their employees alike are struggling to keep up.

But with entire skillsets, ways of working and industries under threat from this seismic development, where does responsibility lie when it comes to embracing digital progress, and ensuring the workforce has the necessary skills to take advantage of these changes?

tech revolution
Jane Dickinson, digital skills lead at The Open University


Encouraging employees to learn new digital skills

With 12 million roles expected to change dramatically in the next five years, digital development should undoubtedly be on the minds of UK employees in terms of the impact it will have on job security and the nature of their roles.

However, new research in The Open University’s Bridging the Digital Divide report suggests that just one in five employees are aware that their role might be at risk.

Despite concerns about future job roles, not all employees are interested in learning new digital skills.

Overall, just half of employees say they want digital training, while younger workers are more willing to embrace digital development, with two thirds of 18-34 year olds saying that they would be receptive to digital training from their employers.

There is clearly some way to go in communicating the importance of continuous development to workers of all ages.

The future is digital and to make the most of technological advancements employees must undergo continuous development to keep up with technology’s growing influence in the workplace, in the form of AI, emerging technologies and cloud-based systems.


Impact of tech revolution on businesses

Although the impact of technology on jobs undoubtedly affects workers, there is also a significant impact on business, as it tries to adapt and embrace the technological advancements coming through.

Nearly nine in 10 businesses have already reported that they haven’t got the required digital skills to keep up with technology as it currently stands.

This is an issue that’s likely to worsen as technology develops further, and we face potential hits to the workforce in light of Brexit, as UK organisations and their access to overseas talent potentially comes under threat.

It is therefore in the best interest of employers to invest in developing the skills of their existing workforce, as the ability to reactively buy-in necessary talent becomes increasingly unsustainable and uncertain.

As technology continues to grow and develop in terms of its role in UK businesses, it’s likely that a new, continuous approach to learning is needed for employers looking to weather the storm brought about by digital disruption.

Indeed, 85% of senior leaders agree that this will become necessary in the future.


The future of skills after the tech revolution

There’s clearly some distance left to go to encourage employees to engage in training to keep up with digital developments and work-based learning can provide a vital starting point.

Being able to learn on the job is an appealing alternative to employees looking to refresh and revitalise their skills.

For employers, work-based initiatives, such as apprenticeships, offer organisations the opportunity to see the benefits of investing in their workforce straight away, as employees are able to apply their new knowledge to their day to day roles immediately.

To really tackle the digital skills gap – not just now, but for the years ahead – UK organisations need to look at existing teaching strategies, and move to a model of lifelong learning, where we all begin to appreciate that education doesn’t stop after school, but continues right the way through our careers.