A digital skills crisis hidden in plain sight

A new report launched by FutureDotNow, reveals that almost 10 million UK workers are missing fundamental digital skills needed for today’s workplace.

This is despite a global pandemic which led to a huge increase in both homeworking and the use of online tools for many parts of everyday life.

Unpacking the hidden middle, produced in partnership with PwC and Lloyds Banking Group, provides new analysis on the digital skills of the working population – representing c.30.3 million people.

The findings are significant – and in some cases, alarming.

“The gap in basic digital capability in the UK workforce is real and huge. And it’s affecting productivity and business resilience at a time when the economic outlook is bleak and the nation is looking for answers,” says FutureDotNow. “Like a smartphone with a low battery, businesses are underpowered because their workforces lack essential digital skills.”

The report details the top ten digital skills missing from the UK workforce; who in the workforce is struggling to build the digital basics; and what businesses can do to take action.

Three out of the top ten skills deficits relate to online safety and cyber security:

  • 6 million workers can’t update privacy settings
  • 9 million are unable to update computer security systems when necessary to prevent viruses and other risks
  • 9 million can’t assess the risks and threats involved in carrying out activities online and act accordingly

This is particularly alarming in the light of ONS reporting that, in 2021, 39% of all businesses reported a security breach or attack, and 77% of business leaders say cyber security is a high priority[1].

Knowing who needs what help and what will motivate them to build skills is critical. Included in the report are four new workplace personas, where certain characteristics correlate with different levels of digital capability. Each persona represents a sizeable segment of the working population, equating to between c.3.5 million and c.17.5 million people.

Through the report, FutureDotNow is calling on businesses to understand the issue better, collaborate on solutions and take action – by providing new opportunities to gain these skills.

Liz Williams, CEO of FutureDotNow says: The gap in basic digital capability in the UK workforce is real and huge. FutureDotNow has revealed, in this new report, that nearly two-thirds of workers would benefit from growing their basic digital skills and they’re people at every level, from the c-suite to the shop floor.

“But insight is just the first step to action, and businesses do need to act. People need opportunities, and, in some cases incentives, to build the core digital skills that will open new opportunities for individuals and employers alike.”

Sunil Patel, Partner and Chief Data Officer at PwC says:

“Post the pandemic, the need for digital skills has accelerated, opening up opportunities for many. But this important report from FutureDotNow shows that not everyone in the workplace has the requisite skills or confidence to seize these opportunities. Without taking decisive action, we risk falling further behind just when we should be accelerating the digital upskilling of ALL of our workforce.

“By taking action now, we can future-proof jobs, raise productivity, increase talent and reduce cybersecurity risks, and make sure we have the workforce our nation needs.”

Jemma Waters, Head of Digital, Group Customer Inclusion for Lloyds Banking Group says: “Amidst the current cost of living crisis, we must not forget how vital digital is for people’s whole lives.

“Learning skills at work has a halo effect, translating into greater confidence with online money management, simplifying engaging with health services and greater ability to avoid online harm and scams. We can’t underestimate the importance of this. To have an inclusive workforce, we must ensure opportunities to thrive in an ever digitally driven workplace, and society, are accessible to everyone.

“With over half of the online UK population saying the best way for them to learn new digital skills is through support at work, there is a huge opportunity for employers to step up.”


[1] Businesses urged to act as two in five UK firms experience cyber attacks in the last year – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)