The gap between two office-blocks

Digital muggles, citizens, workers and makers

We’ve explored the idea that immersion in technology does not guarantee competence in crucial digital skills; that education and practice is required to develop these essential capabilities in relation to information and technology. But, turning now to issues around employment, the economy and the workforce, is there evidence of a gap in the digital skills of the current workforce? Do we need more expert digital practitioners to be strong economically? What impact could digital skills shortages have on countries’ performance globally? What impact can a skills gap have on employment in local areas and on individual workers?

In 2015 the UK Select Committee on Digital Skills, appointed by the House of Lords “to consider and report on information and communications technology, competitiveness and skills in the United Kingdom”, raised alarm bells in their Make or break report. They referred to work by the UK Forum for Computing Education (UKForCE) into the skills required for different occupations. UKForCE outline 4 categories of skill levels required for the population of the labour market:

Digital muggle

“… no digital skills required—digital technology may as well be magic”.

Digital citizen

“… the ability to use digital technology purposefully and confidently to communicate, find information and purchase goods/services”.

Digital worker

“… at the higher end, the ability to evaluate, configure and use complex digital systems. Elementary programming skills such as scripting are often required for these tasks”.

Digital maker

“… skills sufficient to build digital technology (typically software development)”.

They used this framework to analyse the 361 Standard Occupation Codes, a common classification system used to map all occupations in the UK according to their skill level and skill content, to show the following:

Percentage of the UK workforce in jobs in each category

Digital muggle - 2.2m (7%); Digital citizen - 10.8m (37%); Digital worker - 13.6m (46%); Digital maker - 2.9m (10%)

According to these figures 93% of the UK workforce require, at a minimum, the digital skills encompassed in the Digital Citizen category, with only 7% requiring no competence for their jobs. It’s interesting to see just how many people fall into the citizen and worker categories and to think about the levels of sophistication of the digital skills required as outlined in the report. Digital fluency is crucial, not only for the economy and for big businesses to thrive, but for everyone who wants to work, run businesses and simply live, participate and communicate in this digital world.

The UK government’s new UK Digital Strategy published in March 2017, sets out their proposals on how to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities that the UK faces. It underlines how crucial digital technology and skills are to the UK economy and their commitment to work towards a stronger digital future. The strategy has 7 strands:

  • Connectivity - building world-class digital infrastructure for the UK
  • Digital skills and inclusion - giving everyone access to the digital skills they need
  • The digital sectors - making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business
  • The wider economy - helping every British business become a digital business
  • A safe and secure cyberspace - making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online
  • Digital government - maintaining the UK government as a world leader in serving its citizens online
  • Data - unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use.

The second strand addresses the action needed to better equip the UK and its citizens to thrive in the digital world and address the skills gaps outlined in ‘Make or Break’. They claim that they will ‘ensure adults in the UK who lack core digital skills will not have to pay to access the basic digital skills training they need’. They mention the important role libraries could have in growing the skills and confidence of people given their provision of a free to use and trusted network of accessible computers, and their provision of skills training. They also aim to establish a Digital Skills Partnership, bringing together technology companies, local businesses, local government and other organisations, to ‘identify digital job vacancies and take action to help people move into these jobs’. They also intend to embed digital skills in education to ensure more young people have the specialist skills for the jobs in the Digital Maker category above. For more see section 2 of the paper.

You may find it interesting to take a quick test to explore your own digital capabilities. But do come back and use the Comments functionality to consider the below questions.


If you are (or have been) an employee/employer:

  • Do you think your organisation maximises the potential of new technologies and the digital talent of employees?
  • Do you think there is a pressure on some employees to fulfill roles that are outside of their skill set?

If you are a student or have been at school, college or University in very recent years:

  • Did you find that the institution helped raise your awareness of the digital skills required in the workforce?
  • Do you think it should be mandatory for staff in educational institutions to upskill digitally in order that they can better develop the digital awareness and skills of students?

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This article is from the free online course:

Becoming a Digital Citizen: an Introduction to the Digital Society

University of York