Countries across the globe are facing a significant digital skills gap, and the UK is no exception. UK employers are already finding that over one third of their hard-to-fill vacancies are related to a lack of digital skills. However demand for these skills continues to grow: there were over 2 million tech economy vacancies last year, more than any other area of the UK labour market. There is also a significant gender imbalance in digital courses and careers. Boys outnumber girls 4 to 1 in choosing the computer science GCSE, and women only make up about 30% of employees in the digital sector. Likewise, older workers are less likely to be in digital careers – over a third of adults between the ages of 55-64 say they lack ‘essential digital skills’.
To build a greater understanding of how to boost the UK’s digital skills, DSIT and the UK Government’s Digital Skills Council commissioned the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) to run two projects exploring how behavioural science could address barriers to uptake of digital courses and careers – one focused on young people and one on experienced professionals. Both projects involved rapid evidence reviews, interviews with students or workers, message generation and message testing. DSIT has now published this research on gov.uk. Below, we summarise our top findings.
We explored how to boost interest in digital courses and careers among A level / T level students (or equivalent) and university students (including recent graduates) – with a particular focus on women. Following qualitative research into the drivers and barriers to uptake of digital courses and careers, we designed and tested a series of messages to see which were most effective at boosting interest. We ran an online experiment (using our in-house platform, Predictiv) with 4,500+ young people in December 2022.
There was a large gap (of 20 percentage points) between male and female students’ interest in digital – 84% of men said they would consider a digital course or career compared to 62% of women.
A message about the breadth of opportunities in digital (see below) boosted women’s interest in digital courses/careers by 8 percentage points (from 62% to 70%) and more than halved the gender gap.
Imagine starting your career in healthcare, switching to fashion and then trying out investment banking. With a digital career, you can.
Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (those who had received free school meals) were more likely to be interested in digital courses and careers. 78% of this group said they would consider a digital course or career, compared to 66% of those who had never been on free school meals.
We also explored how to boost interest in digital among early career switchers (age 28-35) and workers aged 50+. We ran another online trial with 5,000+ participants to test a series of messages and identify the most effective at boosting interest in digital careers.
- Almost half (49%) of experienced professionals (aged 50+) would consider a digital career.
- A message about the value of experience in the digital job market (see below) almost doubled clicks to learn about training opportunities (from 17% to 30% among experienced professionals).
The digital job market values experience and soft skills, making it the perfect fit for experienced professionals looking to explore new career paths.
- Experienced professionals were much more likely to click on links to learn more about digital training than early career switchers.
- Experienced professionals often believe that digital jobs are difficult (believed by more than half of people) and aren’t social (believed by more than a third of people). Future communications should continue to tackle these misperceptions.
As next steps, we recommend further messaging testing – ideally in a real-world context (e.g. a trial on a social media platform) and with a larger sample.
Please get in touch if you are interested in learning more about our findings or partnering in future.