Expert Eye: Salesforce on tackling the UK’s digital skills gap

Salesforce.org’s EVP and Chief Philanthropy Officer, Ebony Frelix, lays down her thoughts on how collaborative efforts can help tackle the UK’s digital skills gap

Today, there are over 1.5 million people working in digital tech roles in the UK.

The number of these across the country has grown at more than twice the rate of non-digital sectors, and now collectively contributes a staggering £130 billion to our economy, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

As digital growth continues to accelerate, there is a real opportunity for the youth of today who can fulfil the world’s increasing digital needs as they venture into employment.

To ensure we are giving young people the best chance of success in achieving this, sufficient support must be introduced. This requires a collaborative effort, not only to address the curriculum being offered in schools and other educational institutions, but also in workplaces so employers can continue to give staff the opportunities to be ready for the jobs of tomorrow.

Accelerating learning for all

We believe that everyone – no matter their background or circumstance – should have equal access to open learning that enables people to hone their digital skills and, in turn, put the building blocks in place for their careers.

According to research conducted by City & Guilds Group and Emsi, nine in 10 UK employers are struggling to find qualified talent to fill vacant roles. This is putting pressure on our education system to prepare students for full-time employment. At the same time, the education provided by many schools is no longer what the workforce is looking for. Employers don’t require applicants to provide an array of exam results or a university degree to become part of the workforce. Instead, businesses are meeting this growing demand for talent by recruiting from a more diverse talent pool, with McKinsey finding that companies that encourage equality in the workplace are 35 percent more likely to financially outperform their competitors.

As the pressure to keep pace with the fourth industrial revolution increases, it's time for more diverse thinking where different perspectives and point of views can come together to create new ideas. Therefore, we need to look at an array of methods to prepare individuals with the necessary skills to bring new and diverse people into the workforce.

Looking to the future

At Salesforce, we're committed to helping solve the digital skills gap in the UK. As part of this, we are connecting young people of all demographics with the skills and resources needed to succeed in their future careers.

Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of Salesforce, has various partnerships that aim to empower young people to build the future they deserve by connecting them to greater opportunities in education, training, work experience and employment. Most recently, we invested $1 million in two phenomenal London-based not-for-profit organisations, School 21 and Ada.

School 21 focuses on developing the overall skillset of students, whether that be in relation to academia, character building or problem-solving. Within this, we are providing support to its Innovative Leadership Development Programme, aimed at building leadership skills within schools. This looks at how we can better support teachers with the implementation of a more holistic approach to education, and inspire the wider systemic change needed within British education to ensure young people are fully prepared for the future world of work.

Ada, meanwhile, is a specialist college that empowers students to become the digital pioneers of tomorrow through its apprenticeship programmes, which Salesforce.org is supporting through a grant scheme. Ada aims to ensure that young adults from all backgrounds can access jobs in the tech sector and ensures its curriculum matches industry standards. This includes the running of its high-quality apprenticeship scheme that gives students the opportunity to learn new skills through on-the-job training and extends learning beyond the classroom.

What is hugely inspiring about both organisations is that they understand the importance of skills training and helping young people become future ready. We must focus on closing the skills gap by looking at education inside and outside the classroom to ensure young people are gaining real-life experiences and access to the skills they need.

A collective responsibility

In the technology sector, there needs to be a collective responsibility to prepare our future workforce with necessary skills. This cannot sit with one company, one government or one educational institution. These changes need a major societal challenge, and require strong partnerships and collaboration between different organisations, industries, and political parties to effectively prepare the UK’s future workforce.

The fourth industrial revolution has triggered a wave of innovation and technology that is radically transforming our economy, our society and our daily lives. This is having huge ramifications for job roles. As jobs become more digitised, it’s up to all of us to ensure that both today’s and tomorrow’s workforce are armed with the skills to succeed – whether that is in or outside the classroom. If we all play our part, we’ll not only ensure the UK seizes the opportunity to close its skills gap, but also ensure that future generations are not left behind.


About the Expert

Ebony Frelix is the Executive Vice President and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce.org, where she manages programmes and grants to advance Salesforce.org’s 1-1-1 integrated philanthropy model. At Salesforce.org, Frelix and her team are responsible for engaging more than 21,000 employees in community service opportunities and administering millions of dollars in grants to improve social enablement around the world.