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Do UK businesses have an issue with digital literacy, and how do we solve it?

With so much work now being done in virtual spaces, being able to effectively use online tools and resources has never been more important. Technology has never been more accessible, but that doesn’t guarantee that employees have the digital skills to pay their online bills. For any business to succeed in the modern day, digital literacy at work is essential on the employee level.

What do we mean by digital literacy?

As we’ve often said, digital technology is one of the defining factors of modern business success. But digital literacy at work is essential for getting the most out of your tech solutions. Essentially, digital literacy is how well someone understands digital technology and its surrounding issues.

Contrary to what you might think, while competency is a part of being digitally literate, simply knowing how to use a range of basic tools like Microsoft Word or your preferred email service doesn’t constitute digital literacy. Nor does passively consuming digital media, like watching videos online.

Digital literacy encompasses all of the skills that employers value which can be performed virtually, such as coding and graphic design. But it also includes all the connected issues around digital processes, from soft skills like communication and collaboration through virtual means, to ethical stuff like data protection. This is what separates digital literacy from technological competency.

It’s not as though every employee needs a degree in computer science or the ability to do advanced 3D-modelling. But with the modern workplace becoming more and more digital, it’s become increasingly vital for even your ground-level staff to understand digital spaces and their responsibilities within them.

Many employees aren’t digitally literate

Shamefully for the nation that produced Alan Turing and some of the world’s earliest known computers, the UK has long had problems with digital literacy in its workforce. In 2016, a government report found that 72% of the UK’s large businesses and 49% of small-to-medium businesses were experiencing a lack of necessary digital skills. The report also found that only 23% of employees understood the difference between digital and technological skills.

So, in the five years since that report was released, surely the British workforce has compensated for this skills gap?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem so. Although we tend to look at Gen Z employees as being more innately tech-savvy than the rest of us, research from the Learning & Work shows that 70% of surveyed young people expect to learn digital skills from their employers, but only half of employers have the capability to provide that level of training. The report also found that the number of young people taking IT courses at GCSE level has fallen 40% since 2015.

Less than half of employers believe young people are leaving education with the necessary digital skills to succeed, and 76% of firms agree that a lack of digital skills would negatively impact their profitability.

Why digital literacy at work matters

Digital skills are increasingly forming the core of our skillsets. As such, digital literacy at work is essential for the following reasons:

  • Digital literacy is essential for employee buy-in: More often than not, employee buy-in is the deciding factor in whether new workplace tech succeeds or fails. But your employees will never get onboard with a new digital tool or platform if they don’t understand how it actually works or why it’s even necessary.

  • Embracing digital tech can boost productivity: The main benefit of digital tech in the workplace is that it can streamline the most time-consuming aspects of our jobs, allowing us to turn our full focus to the bits that actually matter. According to PwC, 73% of employees know of tech solutions that would enable them to work more effectively.

  • Employees need to be sure they’re acting ethically: In an increasingly digital world, it’s all about the data. But there are rules and regulations in place surrounding how we handle other people’s information. While specific data protection laws vary between countries, it’s important that your staff have at least a basic understanding of the rules in your country so they don’t accidentally break the law in your name.

  • Lack of digital literacy is a security risk: There’s no better case for improving digital literacy than the dangers of a complete lack of it. If you’ve ever had an elderly relative get tricked by a phishing scam, then you know what we mean. With more people working from home, or on personal devices, digital security is more important than ever. While it might just seem like common sense, your employees need to know how to spot scams, use firewalls and VPNs, and what the difference between viruses and spyware is.

How to help staff learn digital literacy

Now we’ve made our case for the benefits of digital literacy and the dangers of its absence, let’s finish up by going over some basic pointers for teaching digital literacy at work. 

  • Invest in employee education: Considering that only half of UK employers have the means to teach digital literacy effectively, it’s obvious that businesses need to invest in digital education for their employees. Don’t overlook the simple stuff, like easy access to learning resources about different tools and common issues.

  • Collaborate with IT: Remember that you have a whole department of knowledgeable digital specialists right under your nose. IT personnel can help train other people using their wealth of practical knowledge. Better to get them involved from the beginning than to have them have to fix everything down the line!

  • Provide opportunities to upskill: It’s one thing to make people in your organisation more digitally literate, but don’t forget that those big, flashy technical skills can be very enticing too. Thanks to digital tech, fields of work exist today that didn’t back when some of your employees were in school. Courses on things like coding and machine learning can help your staff develop skills they missed out on back in the day, which is great for staff loyalty!

The Weekly10 check-in helps managers spot where staff need support and further training by building a culture of open and honest feedback throughout organisations. Why not check out a demo?