Sleepwalking into irrelevance: It is not a skills gap that will hurt UK businesses but a creativity gap

22 December 2015 -


The rise of the robot is putting process-driven jobs at risk meaning education and businesses need to inspire creativity and innovation in students and workers alike

Guest blogger Gi Fernando

The ‘skills gap’ is a phrase rarely out of the news or off the lips of UK businesses, and the widespread belief is that it threatens to stall economic growth and harm the future of our workforce. These concerns may be to some degree valid, but I believe there is a more urgent threat to the future of the UK – the creativity gap.

We are completely failing to inspire innovation and create a productive workforce with the necessary creative and digital skills to thrive in a world where automation of industry will become increasingly common.

The rise of the robot is beginning to affect not just the manufacturing industry, but also many administrative, clerical and production occupations. Any job that requires a human being to process data or apply a set of rules to create an output repetitively, will in time be replaced by a machine that can perform the function more efficiently and with less margin for error.

To bypass a job crisis, we need to start instilling creativity and innovation from the classroom onwards – helping the employability of future generations and ensuring a strong future for British enterprise. If handled properly, automation is a tremendous opportunity for our nation, but we need to be prepared for it.

We are lucky to have some of the most talented, innovative and creative minds in the world, but more must be done to utilise them. Consider the TalkTalk hacking scandal - five young people between the ages of 15-20 have been brought in for questioning over the cyber-attack. Whether they are found guilty or not, they are suspected by the authorities of having tech skills so impressive that they may have been able to break down the security walls of one of the UK’s largest telecoms businesses.

Failing to harness the capacities of those allegedly capable of such tech excellence is a huge error on the part of UK industry. This creative thinking – spotting weaknesses and problems and knowing how to resolve them – is what we need as we move into a digital future.

By focusing on performance measurement through tests and targets, education and graduate employment systems fail to identify and make the most of our talent. We have a brilliant but disengaged young generation, who use their creativity and flair for tech at home but are not given the chance to put it to use at school, university or in the workplace.

Primary school coding clubs, creative university degrees, and curriculum changes are good places to start; they empower creative problem solving and inspire innovation that individuals take with them into the workplace, but we also need to focus on ensuring that all millennials and post-millennials have the skills necessary to prosper in the new digital landscape or we risk falling far behind our European counterparts.

As digital skills charity GO ON UK cite, digital exclusion is a huge problem in the UK – almost a quarter of the country doesn’t have the five basic skills: managing information, communicating, transacting, problem-solving and creating to succeed in our evolving technological age.

As the founder of Freeformers, a digital transformation company, I believe passionately in the need to democratise the digital space. We provide disadvantaged young people with the skills they need with our one_for1 model; training one young person for free for every businessperson that receives training. As we progress, pegging digital ability to personal outcomes such as ‘earning a good living’ or ‘solving problems that I care about’ will be crucial to inclusiveness.

Transformation requires government, big business and education providers to work together to deliver a joined up approach. Generation Y and Z see the world differently to Generation X – they have grown up in a digital era, with all the opportunities for creativity that this offers. We must do all we can to harbour this creativity as human interaction is crucial in a digital world, and, fortunately for us, face-to-face relationships cannot be substituted by a robot.

We need to address the creativity gap now, before the UK slowly sleepwalks into irrelevance.

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