Digital skills: more than just switching devices off and on again

Digital Leaders
4 min readApr 27, 2023

Written by Adam Freeman-Pask, Head of digital innovation, Sport England

At the end of last year we blogged about our concerns of the digital divide’s impact on sport and physical activity — a risk of digital technology leaving some people behind because of a lack of access, connectivity and the skills needed to use it.

But that’s not to say we don’t value digital and the benefits that it can bring to our sector.

Following the recent release of UK Active’s Digital Futures 2022 report, we thought it timely to examine the state of digital skills in our sector.

Professor Stephen Hawking once said: “Whether you want to uncover the secrets of the universe, or you just want to pursue a career in the 21st Century, basic computer programming is an essential skill to learn.”

We may not need to know every detail about coding, but I do believe that to run an organisation in the modern world digital skills are essential.

Digital skills, in this instance, cover the day-to-day use of systems and software as well as relevant pockets of advanced skills to design, innovate, and build end-to-end new products and services that will enable people to access and enjoy sport and physical activity.

How big is the digital skills gap in the workplace?

The UK Digital Strategy 2022 estimates that the digital skills gap costs the UK economy £63 billion per year in gross domestic product and this gap is expected to widen.

Many businesses cite the talent shortage as the single biggest factor limiting growth, and I would say our sector is experiencing a similar challenge.

We may not need to know every detail about coding, but I do believe that to run an organisation in the modern world digital skills are essential.

If these estimates are correct, organisations stand to gain thousands of pounds and hours through improved efficiencies and productivity, supporting long-term financial sustainability, and increasing the pace of improving customer experiences.

In a sector like ours, the support and goodwill from volunteers and participants may make these benefits less obvious, but they are not to be overlooked.

How ready is our sector?

We’re building a picture of the digital skills across our sector and a valuable starting point is understanding an organisations digital maturity.

The Digital Futures 2022 report is now in its second year and it is hugely positive that twice as many organisations completed the digital maturity tool, a total of 93 leisure operators ( approximately 1,800 sites and 4.5 million members being represented).

Overall, the findings suggest that the average digital maturity score for the leisure operators is 51%, with 85% being the highest score and 10% as the lowest.

Although it’s worth remembering these are self-assessed scores and there aren’t prizes for the highest, they still provide us with opportunities to learn and understand more about improving digital capabilities and culture, processes and systems, services and experiences.

An insight that stood out about the sector right now, is that the perceived benefits of digital are very high, with 91% of respondents saying that digital helps increase participation in sport and activity.

However, becoming a digital organisation and achieving these benefits is hard. Even laying down the direction is a challenge, as 42% of respondents do not have a digital strategy and only 15% said they had one that’s up-to-date, complete, ambitious, and supported with a roadmap.

Clearly building digital skills is a route to improved efficiency and productivity, but in the current economic climate and talent market it is a challenging prospect.

How do we close the digital skills gap in 2023?

Perhaps we can’t solve all our digital challenges at once, but knowing more about where your organisation is on its journey to digital transformation is a valuable starting point and the Digital maturity tool is here to help with that.

There’s always the question, are we devoting enough time and effort to training? I think learning about digital skills is a sure bet. As W. Edwards Deming reflected: “What if I train them and they leave? What if you don’t and they stay?”

Investing in your workforce will only make their day-to day experience better while helping the overall results of the organisation. Everybody wins!

So, while there’s more to digital skills than switching our devices on and off with the hope that they’ll work again — to be fair, sometimes they do! — the good news is there are plenty of resources to help in case they don’t.

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Originally published at on April 27, 2023.