Almost half of UK business leaders lack essential digital skills

Open University survey reveals a correlation between digital-savvy businesses and profits

Almost half of UK business leaders have said that they are not doing enough to address their digital skills shortage, in a new report released by the Open University (OU).

Three-quarters of leaders, 76%, also agreed that they would benefit from more training to keep up with technological change, according to the OU's Leading in the Digital Age survey.

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950 CTOs and senior UK leaders took part in the survey, the results of which suggested a correlation between digital-savvy boardrooms and business success. It also highlighted that many businesses are struggling to adapt to a digital workplace as leadership teams lack the necessary digital skills.

An overwhelming 88% of leaders who had received digital training in the last year reported that their organisation experienced growth compared to just 49% who received no training.

Those with training said their business had enjoyed improved productivity, greater employee engagement, enhanced agility and increased profit. What's more, 89% of leaders who had received training in the past year see digital technology as an opportunity to make their organisation more profitable.

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Four in ten respondents, however, said that their organisation is falling behind when it comes to new technology. In particular, 47% of business leaders said they are not doing enough to address the digital skills shortage within their organisation, and only 39% strongly agreed that their senior leadership team has the skills needed to take advantage of emerging technology, such as AI and automation.

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When it comes to digital training, the research showed a growing gap between sectors. IT and technology industries spend the most on digital training, followed by the financial services sector, with others, such as education and the public sector some way behind. While 76% of those in the hospitality industry think that embracing new tech is essential for their survival, one in three (32%) would say that they are currently not 'tech-first'.

"We're living in a digital age where the development of technology affects all areas of our lives from the workplace to our homes," said Baroness Martha Lane-Fox. "But in a business context, digital presents a very real opportunity to become more profitable, yet for those who fail to embrace change, there is a real risk of being left behind."

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