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Are organisations equipped for the digital skills of the future?

New research suggests we’ve got a long way to go, but with the right learning and development strategies, organisations can help close the skills gap

Machine learning, blockchain, the metaverse – just trying to keep up with new technologies and the pace of digital change can be exhausting, let alone future-proofing your organisation with the right talent to take advantage of it. But no one wants to be a dinosaur among unicorns – a readiness for the technologies of today and tomorrow is vital for the longevity and success of any organisation, whether you’re in retail or financial services.

Salesforce’s recent Global Digital Skills Index sought to understand exactly how skilled and prepared employees at organisations across the globe feel in today’s complex digital world. It surveyed 23,000 workers across 19 countries to determine their level of digital skills readiness – an assessment made by asking respondents how prepared they feel for the future, how they would rate their digital skill levels, whether they have access to the right resources to develop skills, and whether they are actively learning or upskilling. 

Across all countries, the index found a global digital readiness score of just 33%, with some countries faring better than others. While India came out on top with a score of 63%, the UK’s digital readiness score came in at just 21%, with only 30% of respondents feeling very prepared with workplace digital skills now, and only 20% feeling very prepared for the skills they’ll need in five years’ time. Although reports of a UK skills gap are widespread, this incredibly low figure may come as a surprise. It indicates a huge gap between what organisations need to stay ahead of, or even in step with, the curve, and the reality of where they are right now.

Peter Schwartz, SVP for strategic planning and chief futures officer, Salesforce, explains: “There’s a gap between the frontier of innovation and the skills necessary to use those innovations. That in itself is not new. But what is new is the scope of that innovation, how widespread it is, and how it has diffused in every aspect of life. It is hard to do almost anything these days without some form of digital interaction.”

Digital readiness isn’t just about organisations staying competitive in their respective industries, closing the skills gap is vital for advancements in our society and for the economy, with PwC estimating that addressing the gap could boost UK GDP by £87bn by 2030.

Jacqueline de Rojas, techUK president, says: “There is an urgent need for action to fix the digital skills crisis. Salesforce’s Digital Skills Index shows how unprepared our global society and economy are in front of this crisis and stresses the need for collaboration if we are to retrain employees and prepare the future generations for the jobs of tomorrow.”

One of the stand-out findings of the survey is the gap between employer and employee confidence in digital readiness. While globally a relatively high level (61%) of board-level workers feel very prepared with the necessary digital skills, just 33% of individual contributors feel the same way.

And while 54% of board-level workers are very actively training, only 38% of middle management and 19% of individual contributors are doing the same. It seems that the resources available to those in more senior positions are not accessible to all, and that, for many organisations, there’s a long way to go in promoting and encouraging training – especially in those more junior ranks.

Once you drill down into the detail, there is also a clear gap between the importance of specific digital skills and the current skill level of workers. The index ranked skill importance from one to five (with five being more important) and skill level rating from one to three (with one being beginner, and three being advanced). Across the board, almost all skills are seen as of high importance, yet most respondents reported beginner level skills.

A key challenge here is securing and developing some of the more advanced and in-demand skills. For example, while encryption and cybersecurity unsurprisingly came in high on the ranking of importance, it was one of the lowest scorers in skill level. Organisations must ensure they are putting significant efforts into attracting and retaining the right talent in these areas. Comparatively, some of the skills we’ve all had to get accustomed to over the last couple of years, such as collaboration technology, showed relatively high confidence in skills levels.

Upskilling is a vital component of talent retention, attraction and job satisfaction. With a ‘great resignation’ or ‘great reshuffle’ underway, it’s becoming apparent that it’s not just money tempting talent away from their employers – opportunities for career development are hugely important. As the index indicates, the majority of respondents are looking to develop within either their current company or career, presenting a tremendous opportunity for organisations to upskill the talent they already have.

De Rojas explains: “The Index clearly reveals most of its respondents are willing and ready to learn new digital skills. It is crucial that businesses now work in collaboration with governments and the rest of the industry to close the digital skills gap and ensure people are trained and retrained efficiently to fulfil their personal and professional growth and support an increasingly digitalised economy.”

Of course, it’s not just work-specific digital skills that are important and need boosting in the workforce. Technology is part a huge part of our everyday lives, including our day-to-day jobs. Being able to navigate the apps on your phone or understand the nuances of social media comes with the territory of being a member of society in the 21st century. Very few survey respondents ranked their skills in everyday technology as advanced, with even the supposedly tech-savvy Generation Z feeling underconfident.

So how can organisations boost learning? Many organisations have found great success with digital learning over the last couple of years, with a McKinsey survey finding it the most popular and successful skill-building strategy for companies in 2020. And while a lot of digital learning uptake will have been due to the pandemic and remote working, now it’s tried and tested and remote working practices seem set to continue, it’s an attractive option for many organisations going forward.

Salesforce’s free Trailhead online learning platform, for example, has helped over 3.9 million people learn skills for the future of work. The platform is part of Salesforce’s commitment to providing opportunities for people from all backgrounds to learn digital skills and get a foothold in the tech industry.

As Zahra Bahrololoumi, UKI CEO, Salesforce, explains: “Reskilling is clearly a national priority and we all have a responsibility to help people navigate learning and equip them to seize the opportunities of a digital-first future. By using our scale, ecosystem, and resources as a platform for change, we can provide alternative pathways to training, often free and online, to ensure that our increasingly connected world stands for success across all of society.”

It’s clear that, with the right tools, a commitment to learning, and a healthy dose of urgency, organisations can set themselves on a path to embrace, rather than fear, the tech advancements of the future.

Explore the full results of the Global Digital Skills Index. To find out how Salesforce is powering the workforce of tomorrow, visit