BRITAIN’s fast growing small firms must sharpen their digital skills if they want to stay ahead of their global rivals, according to Ronan Harris, the UK managing director of Google.
Mr Harris warned that the challenge of ensuring workers have the right digital skills must be confronted immediately.
Google has established a Digital Garage in Sheffield, which is offering training to people of all ages who wish to improve their prospects by brushing up their digital skills.
Mr Harris said: “I believe we are living in a truly transformative era, where new solutions to everyday or complex questions are being answered with the help of technology.
“Our use of technology in this way, will not only pertain to our personal lives but our professional ones also. In fact, in the near future, 90 per cent of jobs will require digital skills – so it is important that we are prepared for the opportunities that technology will bring.”
When businesses are effective at using digital tools and have a strong online presence, they grow twice as fast, create more jobs and have a positive impact on the economy, Mr Harris said.
He added: “If the UK is to maintain a healthy economy and a competitive position, we need to ensure that everyone is familiar with, and ready to seize, the potential of the internet to enhance their personal lives, to improve their job prospects and to boost their businesses.
“SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy and to grow they need to sharpen their digital skills and find suitably-qualified workers.
“The Commons Science and Technology Committee found that 12 million adults in the UK lack basic digital skills and 5.8 million have never used the internet at all.
“Additionally, the British Chambers of Commerce revealed that 76 per cent per cent of businesses in the UK say they have a shortage of digital skills in their workforce. This is not a challenge to kick further down the road – it’s problem that needs to be tackled now.”
Mr Harris said that Google was playing its part to help people build up their skills, from polishing an online CV to learning how to use the internet to promote their businesses.
He added: “Last year, we pledged to make five hours of free digital skills training available for every individual and small business in the UK and we are doing so via our Digital Garage workshops.
“Through the Digital Garage, we’ve already trained more than 150,000 people both online and at our pop-up spaces. Hairdressers, restaurant owners, artists, builders – all across the country people are using the skills they’ve developed with the Digital Garage to great impact.
“There are some challenges that we’ve had to overcome, such as providing a level of training appropriate for the individual and making the training as accessible as possible.
“That’s why we are locating the Digital Garage workshops slap bang on the high street, including on Barkers Pool in Sheffield, where they are handy and approachable, and it’s why we are investing in our bus tour which will be travelling around rural areas of Yorkshire. We are also touring coastal areas of the UK to bring training to the seaside and will be visiting Scarborough on October 13.”
He continued: “We have a wonderful team of trainers who are equipped to help people of all ages and at all levels, meaning older people can come in and learn the basics without feeling rushed, and what’s more, the training is free of charge. We have also partnered with Which? to offer tailored sessions teaching people how to stay safe and secure online.
“We know our efforts will make a real difference to people’s lives and job prospects in Yorkshire.
“On average, 88 per cent of businesses who have participated have made changes to the way they operate online and 10 per cent have taken on more staff as a result.
“According to research by Deloitte, UK businesses using Google Search and AdWords generated at least £11bn in economic activity, supporting 210,000 jobs across all sectors of the economy. We want to help continue this growth.
“So, where there’s a will, there’s a way. We hope our efforts can inspire both the Government and other companies to start investing in
transforming the UK into a truly digital nation – not one just for the existing ‘digital natives’.”