Lacking digital skills costs £10 billion in lost productivity

10 February 2020 4 min. read

The UK is facing a massive economic loss in productivity, resulting from a failure by bosses to invest in digital-orientated education in the workplace. Meanwhile, even though the public sector is facing major funding pressures and spikes in demand, employees there have less access to data tools than in any other line of work.

As the UK faces a major talent shortage – the next chapter of Brexit threatens to stifle the flow of labour between Britain and the continent, while an ageing population could see almost 3 million jobs left unfilled by 2030. Data analytics and automation are often spoken of as ways of alleviating this mounting pressure, with the increased efficiency and accuracy of technological solutions compensating for the loss of a portion of the physical workforce. At the same time, however, many Human Resources (HR) departments are still dragging their feet when it comes to up-skilling their incumbent workforce to take advantage of digitalisation.

Now, a global study of 9,000 employees from Qlik and Accenture has found that this failure to invest in training is costing UK businesses dearly. The report estimates that a global data skills crisis is threatening to jeopardise the digital revolution, and is currently costing UK businesses a staggering £10 billion in lost productivity every year.


Of all the respondents surveyed, UK individuals were least likely to have spent significant amounts of time in mainstream education learning to use data in the workplace. Only 10% said they had encountered the topic in their time as students, compared to 12% in Australia, 14% in France and Singapore – the next worst performers. Meanwhile, a huge 52% of respondents in India said that they had spent plenty of time in their education learning to apply data.

Outside of India, it is therefore unwise for businesses to rely on the education system to yield a data-savvy workforce. Instead, it is up to organisations themselves to drastically ramp up their training efforts on the matter, lest they fail to make the most of the potential that data analytics has to offer. As it stands in the UK, however, rather than doing this, employers are passing the buck and placing their staff under mounting pressure as a result.

The researchers found that of the 1,000 surveyed workers in Britain, 58% are expected to make data-driven decisions at least once a week – despite the fact their education is unlikely to have prepared them for this. This undoubtedly links to the fact that 67% of staff feel overwhelmed when working with data, meaning companies are unable to derive full value from it. Adding further to this productivity loss, 47% of employees state that data contributes toward their workplace stress, pushing 25% of those polled to take at least one sick day due to stress contributed to by data, information and technology issues.


Jordan Morrow, Global Head of Data Literacy at Qlik, commented,Despite recognising the integral value of data to the success of their business, most firms are still struggling to build teams who can actually bring that value to life. There has been a focus on giving employees self-service access to data, rather than building individuals’ self-sufficiency to work with it. Yet, expecting employees to work with data without providing the right training or appropriate tools is a bit like going fishing without the rods, bait or nets – you may have led them to water but you aren’t helping them to catch a fish.”

The research also found that bosses are failing to invest in data tools designed specifically for their staff’s needs. Of the workers questioned by the researchers, science and technology workers were far and away the most likely to have data tools designed for their job roles, at 28%. They were followed by 21% of academia and education workers, and engineering professionals.

While this could still be improved, however, things are much worse at the other end of the scale. The analysts found that only 13% of public sector workers had access to tools which could assist them with their work. This is concerning, as the public sector is coming under the strain of diminished funding from local and national government at the same time that demographic changes are also seeing demand for public services rise drastically. Data analytics tools and training could help deal with this more effectively, but it seems that bosses are unwilling to invest adequately in either.