Huge shortage’ in digital skills says Apprentice winner

Read Time: 4 minutes

By Elisabeth Mahy
Wake Up to Money, Radio 5 LivePublished2 days agoShare

Mark Wright
image captionMark Wright launched his digital marketing business in partnership with Lord Alan Sugar, after winning The Apprentice in 2014

“Right now, I have 14 roles immediately available and over the last month we’ve had one application.”

Mark Wright runs the digital marketing company Climb Online, which he launched after winning BBC TV show The Apprentice in 2014.

While digital marketing is a growing field, the entrepreneur says there simply aren’t enough people available with the necessary skills.

“It’s very, very worrying,” he told Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up to Money.

“Facebook advertising, Google advertising – some of this stuff has only been around five to 10 years and there’s a huge skills shortage,” says Mr Wright.

He echoes the concerns of industry experts who have warned the UK is facing a digital skills shortage “disaster”.

Earlier this month, the economist and former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell told the BBC the UK would “get left behind” if it didn’t become “highly competitive globally” in terms of these “new skills”.

According to research from LinkedIn, the professional networking site, 150 million new technology jobs will be created in the next five years.

Gori Yahaya
image captionCEO of UpSkill Digital, Gori Yahaya (centre), says people shouldn’t be put off learning new technologies

Yet nearly 40% of the UK’s working population lack digital skills.

A report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2020 found that 61% of the active population in the UK had digital skills – compared to 69.4% in the US.

The UK government has promised a skills “revolution” to try to bridge the skills gap, by providing opportunities for adults to retrain and “upskill”.

Mark Wright says he too is providing training, but it won’t immediately alleviate the pressing need firms like his have for staff.

What are digital skills?

“We’re actually starting an academy to train people but that’s a bit of a ‘slow boat’ – we need people now and we can’t find them anywhere,” says Mr Wright

According to a UK government report in 2019, digital skills were required in 82% of job adverts online posted in the 12 month period between April 2017 and April 2018, but the precise skills in demand were not uniform across the country.

‘Digital skills’ is a loose term. It could mean anything from sending emails and taking part in video calls – something many of us will have adjusted to during the pandemic – to more complex talents such as data science and coding.

But learning those more complicated skills is likely to pay off, says Jennifer Openshaw who recently changed career.

‘I thought the tech world was closed to me’

History graduate Jennifer turned to coding after a career with the National Trust. And she’s just landed a job as a software engineer at BAE Systems.

Jennifer Openshaw
image captionJennifer Openshaw moved from a career with the National Trust to software engineering

“I started looking at digital jobs because while I was being a full-time mum to our two little boys, we moved 200-odd miles away from where we had been living, so I needed to explore new avenues and a new career.

“I had thought that the tech world was closed to me. I thought it was too late, and I didn’t have a computer science degree, so there was no hope really.

“Then a friend mentioned coding boot camps. She explained to me that they were a way to learn new computer programming skills.

“There were so many more opportunities from having completed the course. You only have to do one Google search for ‘software engineer’ or ‘software developer’ to see that there are so many roles,” she adds.

Katherine Rust
image captionKatherine Rust is a science graduate, but needed additional digital skills to secure a job in data science

Katherine Rust is a science graduate but had to learn new digital skills in order to secure her current job.

“I had a job at a little convenience store. Obviously with Covid, I got stuck there a lot longer than I wanted to be,” she says.

“I was applying for different science roles the entire time but it was always an issue of ‘you’ve not got enough experience’, because I’d never worked in a data role before.”

Katherine went online to look for courses and started teaching herself basic Python, a computer programming language.

She is now a data analyst at Bidnamic, in Leeds, which helps retailers make the most of online sales.

For others who are similarly thinking about retraining for a new career, how do you join the dots to make sure you have the right skills, in the right place and at the right time?

“Have a think about your own skills, your strengths,” says Gori Yahaya, founder and CEO of Upskill Digital, a computer skills training provider.

“Think about what might be the best areas that you want to invest in; what jobs seem attractive to you – maybe your organisation is investing in a particular tech.

“Then go online – have a look at some of the programmes and free training that exists out there.”

Above all, he stresses people with long careers in other disciplines should not be put off learning new skills, many of which have only evolved in the last decade or so.

“A lot of these are new technologies. People have had to teach themselves how to do them, or companies have had to teach them.”