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Failure to keep up with digital advancements and invest in digital skills could hamper the UK’s ability to compete economically on the world stage, according to new research from Barclays.

The bank’s Digital Development Index, which measures 10 nations on their readiness to compete in the digital economy, ranked the UK fourth, behind new and emerging ‘digital tiger’ economies like Estonia, South Korea and Sweden. 

The findings are based on a survey of nearly 10,000 workers, combined with analysis of policy frameworks and support for the development of digital skills in each country. The research highlights a disconnect between policies to support digital engagement in the UK, which score well overall, and a lack of confidence in digital skills at an individual level among British workers.

Ashok Vaswani, Barclays UK CEO, said: “We urgently need to secure London and the UK as the world’s pre-eminent powerhouse of tech innovation as well as make sure that the UK has the digital skills and expertise to compete globally across all sectors and industries. At a time when the UK is considering its future outside the European Union, we have to remember that competing in digital economy isn’t simply a European question, it’s about a global race that will define how prosperous and successful we are for decades to come.

“With the referendum sending a clear message that too many parts of the UK do not feel they are sharing in the promise of global prosperity, now is the time to take everyone in society forward in the digital age.”

While the UK ranks fourth in terms of support for the development of digital skills, performing well in selected areas of digital skills policy and advanced learning skills, these strengths are offset by relatively low capability and confidence in digital skills on an individual level where the UK ranks sixth, behind some of its biggest economic rivals in China, US and India.

Mr Vaswani said: “In the last century, most of us had to cope with just one big shift in technology in our career or lifetime, and we’ve been able to rely on our early education to get us through. But, now these changes are happening constantly through the evolution of the internet, smartphones, social media, and the advent of new technologies like blockchain, virtual reality, AI and open data.

“This research shows Britons need to equip themselves with digital skills whether to future proof their career, or keep personal data and devices safe. Businesses also need to do much more to upskill each and every generation of their workforce; we need to create a new culture of lifelong learning.”

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