How to mend the digital skills gap

How to mend the digital skills gap

Inspiring students from diverse backgrounds to jump into digital

by Imogen Parker read time 7 mins

Inspiring the next generation of digital talent

On the 16th of March 2022, Solent University relaunched its Happy Hour Digital Industry Talk series. The focus of these talks is to invite inspirational speakers to inspire students to consider a future career in the digital industry. The Happy Hour talks had been put on hold last two years due to the pandemic, but started again with a bang with this informative talk from Richard Coope, called ‘Mending the Digital Skills Gap’. Here are some of the highlights from his talk.

What is the digital skills gap? 

The UK’s digital industry has got huge potential for growth. There is plenty of room for fresh talent in this growing industry. Yet school leavers and graduates are struggling to find jobs as unemployment reaches an all-time high as the impacts of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the global recession continue. The result is that businesses are stagnating and not get getting the organisational skills they need to adapt. This anomaly is referred to as the digital skills gap.

At the heart of this growing global digital skills gap is the 2022 McKinsey ‘Five Fifty: The Skillful Organisation’ report that found that 87% of businesses surveyed are (or will soon be) experiencing a digital skills gap, where many employees are unequipped with the skills they need. 53% of business leaders interviewed felt that reskilling their existing workforce was the answer to tackling this gap. 43% felt that the issue needed to be urgently addressed now.


The current work reality for many businesses is that underskilled people are being hired to patch holes in already sinking ships. Businesses are finding themselves struggling to keep afloat in the ever-changing seas of digital disruption. In particular, there is a significant shortage of skills in the data, cyber-security and artificial intelligence segments in the industry. This report shows that digital literacy in these areas remains shockingly low. Businesses are struggling to find competent employees with the right skills sets and experience.

This gap is not due to a lack of talent but more a lack of opportunity for talented individuals to find their way into the market.


Richard Coope at speaking at solent university

Richard Coope speaking at his Solent University Happy Hour Digital Industry Talk on 10th March 2022.


Finding an urgent solution

Winchester Creatives (founded by speaker Richard Coope) and other organisations, like the Design Community Hub and BIMA, are providing much-needed support for young people to get into the digital industry. They are acting as catalysts and invaluable ‘change agents’ by helping to fix this growing issue by supporting positive outcomes for young people.

Initiatives like these are geared towards providing ‘life support for digital and creative talent‘. Winchester Creatives has been delivering a significant positive social impact in this area since the first lock-down in March 2020. Brightfful’s not-for-profit initiative has helped 25 postgraduates find full-time jobs in the digital industry through a mentoring program that equipped young people with the skills they needed to put their best foot forward. This work was recognised with a 2022 BIMA10 Finalist award.

Plugging the digital skills gap

Richard highlighted the seriousness of this employment crisis by describing the experience of young people looking for jobs during a global pandemic and global recession as ‘trying to find refuge during the middle of a storm’.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to hustle, hustle, hustle‘ he said and ‘don’t accept what you’ve been given”.

Richard highlighted the importance of networking, building a solid LinkedIn profile and the nuances of ‘hacking the process’ of online job applications.

He advised the room to speak directly to the hiring manager of a given role and not to get lost in the online application process. And when student’s applications receive rejection letters (which they will) he reminded them that ‘no actually means go!’. This means following up immediately to ask for feedback and saying if any of the selected candidates don’t work out that you are still interested in the role or are there other roles they can apply for.

As well as applying for jobs through standard employment processes, Richard advised that students go straight to the source and contact real people. The risk of not doing this is that your application gets lost in the piles of paper stacked on every desk in the country as businesses fight to return from the chaos of the last two years.

richard coope and solent students

Richard Coope and the Solent students


As well as sharing his advice, Richard gave the students practical options to consider. He spoke about the Dr Martens ‘Tough as You’ mentoring campaign and the Dr Martens’ excellent trade apprenticeships available. He also spoke about Euan Blairs’ incredible work with ‘’, which is providing apprenticeships and redefining the pathways for young people to get into the digital industry.

The students were also encouraged to lean into their university careers departments, which are paid to find employment opportunities for their candidates. Finally, he encouraged the cohort to learn more about organisations like Winchester Creatives, which are dedicated to creating social impact and social change for young people.


Richard Coope at speaking at solent university

Richard Coope inspires students studying Computer Science and Data Analytics at Solent University.

A place for neurodiversity

Within the digital industry, neurodiverse talent has a place to thrive. Richard, who is a dyslexic entrepreneur himself, emphasised this point. In an industry that is powered by breakthrough insight, creativity, individuality and a relentless drive to improve and grow, neurodivergent minds are being increasingly sought out. For instance, Linkedin has recently added a tab to their skills section that indicates ‘Dyslexic thinking’ as a positive skill to have, which Richard Branson calls a major step forward.

The ability to look at problems in a different way, to be unique and to have a new perspective are all elements that come with neurodiversity. Rather than see neurodivergent people as a hindrance to businesses, their differently wired brains should be welcomed and celebrated. Richard will be sharing his TEDx talk called, Strength in Neurodiversity on Saturday 30th April at The Aldridge Theatre in Farnham. Make sure to check it out if you are interested in learning more about the capabilities of neurodivergent minds.

The talk was a success!

The students at Solent University left the Happy Hour Digital Industry Talk with clarity and focus, prepared to face their upcoming job-hunting challenge directly. It is no secret that this ‘Lost Generation’ of Covid-19 pandemic students will have to work harder and smarter than their peers to find jobs. The positive news is that there are those people, like Richard, who have worked equally hard to provide them with a gateway into the digital industry.

The growing skills gap is undeniably evident within the digital industry and new talent and skills are desperately needed. Luckily, there are now 70 more inspired Solent University students who have been well-advised, motivated and prepared to push themselves into the limelight to join the ranks in the industry.

Whilst the UK’s digital skills gap clearly exists it is heartening to know that there are people out there, like Richard, who are helping to mend this growing gap, one job and one application at a time.

Mending the Digital Skills Gap Group Photo

Richard Coope and Solent University students at the ‘Mending The Digital Skills Gap’ talk on 10th March 2022.

The response was overwhelmingly positive

The response from the students attending was incredible, there was barely a hand down towards the ‘question and answer’ section by the end of the evening. Multiple students stuck around to be interviewed and speak to Richard afterwards, and their feedback was glowing. See Brightful’s video above to hear what the Solent University students and lecturers had to say about the event.

A special thank you to Martin Reid, Course Leader, Computer Science Group at Solent University for kindly inviting Richard to speak at this event.

The future is Brightful. Let’s sprint to that!

Richard Coope’s reaction after speaking at this event:


About the author: Imogen Parker (18 years old) recently left Canford School in July 2021 and is currently on her gap year before starting her English and Philosophy degree at university. Imi (as she likes to be called) is of Chinese/English heritage and has been inspired to follow a career as a copywriter in the creative and digital industry.

She started working as a junior copywriter for Brightful in November 2021 and is gaining valuable experience, coaching and training that will help her develop her  digital career. She is grateful for the generous support and encouragement she is getting from Richard Coope and the Brightful team.

Video production: Thanks to Camilla Coope from Brightful and Jaan Kurtulan from J.Y. Creative for their video creation and editing support. Jaan has recently finished his government Kick-Start scheme and is working to set up his professional video production practice. The Brightful team are proud to help him on his development journey.

If you are looking to start your career in the digital industry then check out Brightful’s Career page for current roles available.

Richard Coope and the Solent students at Happy Hour
Richard Coope and the Solent students
Richard Coope cheering with Solent University students at his 'Mind the Digityal Skills Gap' talk.
Richard Coope Speaking to Students at Solent
Richard Coope shares the BIMA Digital Day video to students from Solent University
Richard speaking at Solent Happy Hour
Solent University Students listening to Richard Coope's inspirational talk
Richard Coope speaking at Solent Happy Hour
Richard speaking at Solent Happy Hour
Richard Coope delivering his Brightful speech to Solent University students

01 Impact


of UK businesses have a digital skills gap (McKinsey ‘The Skillful Organisation’ Report, 2022)


of employees surveyed feel upskilling is the route to plugging this gap (McKinsey ‘The Skillful Organisation’ Report, 2022)

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